CNRP Activists Stopped From Collecting Thumbprints

Authorities on Thursday began to implement a directive from Phnom Penh City Hall preventing opposition activists from gathering thumbprints in public for an anti-government petition.

CNRP petitioners in seven communes reported being confronted by local authorities, who demanded that they stop collecting thumbprints outside of CNRP offices. Dozens of petitions were seized and one CNRP activist was held for a short time in a commune office before handing over the signatures he had collected, according to Morn Phalla, director of the CNRP’s executive committee in Phnom Penh.

The move by authorities came after municipal governor Pa So­cheatvong sent a letter to the CNRP earlier this week demanding that they refrain from collecting thumbprints at markets, people’s homes and in other public places, saying the practice was disruptive—an order legal experts and human rights defenders say is unconstitutional.

The CNRP plans to collect 3 million thumbprints and submit the petition—which denies the legitimacy of a government that was voted in by a one-party CPP National Assembly on September 24 in the wake of a contested national election—to the U.N. on October 23 to coincide with a mass protest.

“Authorities detained my activist [in Sen Sok district’s Toek Thla commune] and questioned him for 10 to 20 minutes and told activists they are only allowed to collect thumbprints at [CNRP] offices,” Mr. Phalla said, adding that the petitioner handed over about 40 thumbprints they had collected during the day.

Mr. Phalla added that authorities in Sen Sok district’s Samraong, Phnom Penh Thmei, and Toek Thla communes and Russei Keo district’s Tuol Sangke, Russei Keo, Chraing Chamreh II and Koh Dach communes demanded that CNRP petitioners move their activities to their offices, citing the governor’s letter.

Tuol Sangke commune officials told a vendor and CNRP activist in Tuol Sangke market that she would be banned from selling her wares if she did not stop collecting thumbprints there, Mr. Phalla said, adding that dozens of petitions were also confiscated by authorities at the market.

“This action goes against the laws in the Constitution and it is eliminating people’s rights,” Mr. Phalla said, adding that CNRP activists would continue to spread throughout the city over the next two weeks to collect thumbprints.

Tuol Sangke commune chief Soy Kosal said that he was simply following City Hall orders in deploying local officials to stop the CNRP from petitioning at the local market.

“If [CNRP activists] do this [collect thumbprints] it can affect public order and cause anarchy in public places,” he said.

“There is no law that allows them to get thumbprints in public,” he added.

In fact, there is no stipulation in Cambodia’s legal code that prevents citizens from peacefully lobbying for support of political causes in public places.

Toek Thla commune chief Tann Narin, denied having held a CNRP activist, explaining that he simply brought the petitioner to the commune office to speak with him.

“We took their 35 thumbprints and we kept them, but we did not detain [the CNRP activist], we talked with them and we agreed with each other that he would go back to collect thumbprints at their office,” Mr. Narin said.

“If they go to get thumbprints in public, their activities can make the people surprised and cause chaos,” he added.

In a letter to The Cambodia Daily, the Interior Ministry on Thursday refuted published remarks by opposition spokesman Yim Sovann that City Hall’s directive was unconstitutional, claiming that by publicly petitioning for political support, the CNRP was in fact breaking laws that ensure that election ballots remain secret.

“The lawmakers were selected by the election in a secret vote. Based on this meaning, the activity of the CNRP collecting the thumbprints of people in the public contradicts the spirit and principle of the secret vote,” the letter, signed by Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, says.

“I think that the activity of collecting thumbprints in public by the CNRP looks like a joke and done without responsibility,” it continues, adding that the CNRP has no mechanism to verify that each thumbprint is unique.

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