King Norodom Sihamoni has not declared a state of emergency in Cambodia. But that hasn’t stopped the CPP government of Prime Minister Hun Sen from disregarding the Constitution in its effort to stamp out demonstrations and political dissent in Phnom Penh.
Facing mass rallies calling for the resignation of Mr. Hun Sen, and industrial action for better wages in the garment sector, the ruling CPP has taken the law into its own hands by suspending the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of assembly, association and peaceful demonstration for the citizens of Cambodia.
Only King Sihamoni himself, following a request from the National Assembly, can declare a state of emergency, which would allow the government to suspend constitutional freedoms, said Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer.
“Only the King can announce that the state is in trouble,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
“For example, if [there is] a war and the government cannot control [the country]. But with peaceful demonstrations and a small clash, we can see that the government can control it, so [martial law] is not justified,” he said.
And suspending the Constitution is not the only way the CPP has violated the law of the
land, said Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor with local rights group Licadho.
“We think the recent use of military soldiers from the elite 911 paratroopers unit and other heavily armed forces to violently crack down on protesters is unconstitutional,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
“It is not consistent with democratic rule,” he said. “The use of martial law is implemented by communist countries or military governments.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Adhoc said that the deployment of the 911 paratroopers to crush a demonstration at the South Korean-owned Yakjin garment factory in Pur Senchey district on Thursday was a direct violation of Article 96 of the criminal code, which states that only members of the police force have powers to arrest citizens.
“Soldiers have no jurisdiction to act as an auxiliary of the judiciary’s power,” Adhoc said.
The U.N. and human rights groups have condemned the abuses of the state armed forces against civilian demonstrators on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and blasted the government’s decision to temporarily suspend the constitutional freedom of assembly.
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker and party spokesman, said the action currently being taken by his ruling party “is not called martial law.”
“These are preventative measures to curb mass destruction that could have been inflicted by violent rioters.”
“If it was up to me, I would have used much stronger force than this,” Mr. Yeap said.
“But Samdech Hun Sen ordered and advised forces to stick with legal prevention measures.”
In a statement issued Saturday, the Interior Ministry announced that “demonstrations through gatherings and marches must stop temporarily until security and order are restored to its normal states.”
Prum Sokha, a CPP secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, claimed that his government’s indefinite suspension of constitutional freedoms was necessary.
“Everyone welcomes [the ban on demonstrations], especially Phnom Penh residents, because everything comes back to normal,” he maintained.
“Even if it’s not at the level of martial law, I think the government [has the] authority to prevent violence, to set measures when the public security or the chaos is a threat.”
The government has broken a litany of laws as it has taken action to suppress demonstrations against its rule, said Sok Touch, an independent political analyst.
“Shooting to kill striking workers cannot be justified as a legal measure,” Mr. Touch said of the military police action against demonstrators, armed with rocks and crude Molotov cocktails, outside the Canadia Industrial Park in Pur Senchey district.
“Now the CPP is again using force to prove that they have the strength to resist demonstrators,” he said.
But as military police and other armed units, including Mr. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguards, continue to camp out in Freedom Park and roam the streets of Phnom Penh to prevent public gatherings of more than 10 people, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that freedom of assembly was not suspended, but is simply no longer guaranteed.
“We don’t suspend any constitutional rights, but we wait for things to cool down,” Mr. Siphan said.
“For those who want to protest and march, people have to request permission from local authorities,” he said.
“They [the Interior Ministry] request cooperation. But they don’t impose martial law yet.”
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