Work crews yesterday began preparing a site in Daun Penh district for the construction of Phnom Penh’s-and Cambodia’s-first “freedom park,” a plan rights groups fear could stifle the public’s voice.
The so-called freedom parks are prescribed for the capital and each province by the Law on Peaceful Demonstration- approved by the National Assembly in October at the Interior Ministry’s request -to host protests of up to 200 people.
“We are trying to build the freedom park as set out by the Ministry of Interior,” said Phnom Penh deputy governor Pa Socheatvong.
Bulldozers were seen yesterday clearing away grass for the park between Streets 106 and 108, a block south of the US Embassy. Mr Socheatvong said the site would be tiled over and equipped with a public toilet, but did not know when work would be complete.
“The important thing is that we will build it with good sanitation,” he said.
Nhem Saran, director of the city’s Public Works and Transportation Department, said the park would measure about 60 meters by 200 meters. He did not know how much the construction would cost, however, and referred questions to other city officials who could not be reached.
Despite the park’s proximity to City Hall, rights groups say the site sits too far from major government institutions like the National Assembly or the Council of Ministers for protesters to be heard by the country’s top decision-makers.
“[Demonstrators] should be given more choices, and if they are only allowed in the park, their freedom will be restricted,” said Chan Soveth, chief monitor for local rights group Adhoc.
Under the Demonstration Law, which took effect in December, up to 200 people can gather at the freedom parks so long as they give local authorities 12 hours’ notice. Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, however, said earlier this week that local authorities could allow for larger crowds, and assured critics that protesters would not be obliged to use the parks exclusively.
Also under the Demonstration Law, organizers planning larger protests must apply for permission well in advance and furnish authorities with details on exactly where they plan to rally and how many people they expect.