Efforts to Prevent Opposition Petitioning Spread to Provinces

Efforts by authorities to prevent the opposition CNRP from collecting signatures for a petition asking the international community to not recognize Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP-led government have expanded to the provinces, local and CNRP officials said Sunday.

In Prey Veng province, Sithor Kandal district Governor Phea In said that he had ordered authorities to confiscate petitions from CNRP activists in response to an order sent down from the provincial Governor Has Sareth.

“We just want to know why they are collecting thumbprints from villagers,” Mr. In said to explain why local officials were clamping down and confiscating the CNRP petition.

“CNRP activists are doing this without informing us, and this is a violation,” Mr. In said, adding he had convened a meeting with commune chiefs to tell them to stop CNRP activists from petitioning in their area.

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith, who won a parliamentary seat in Prey Veng province during July’s election, said petitions had been seized from opposition ac­tivists, but were later returned.

“They [local authorities] confiscated [petitions] from our activists, but we took them back later,” he said.

Mr. Ponhearith also claimed that the party had collected 1 million signatures and thumbprints so far in its effort to reach 3 million before October 23, when the party plans to submit their petition to the U.N. at the same time as holding a mass demonstration in Phnom Penh.

In Pursat province, authorities briefly detained three CNRP petitioners, according to Kandieng district Governor Sok Limut, who said the detentions were necessary because the opposition ac­tivists were disingenuous in their petition-gathering tactics.

“We detained the three for questioning for a little bit then they were released after we instructed them to stop lying to people to give them their thumbprints in exchange for gifts,” Mr. Limut said.

Ngim Nheng, a CNRP lawmaker-elect from Pursat province, denied that opposition activists there had bribed anyone to sign the CNRP petitions.

“It is not true…. This is a trick of the local authorities to intimidate activists,” Mr. Nheng said, adding that the petitioners were let go after two hours of questioning, and after he went to the commune police station to secure their release.

In Phnom Penh, where numerous cases of intimidation by local authorities were reported last week by the CNRP, opposition activists at Olympic Market on Saturday had six petitions with about 140 signatures and thumbprints briefly confiscated, said Morn Phalla, director of the CNRP’s executive committee in Phnom Penh.

“Police grabbed documents from the hands of my petitioners and then ran away,” said Mr. Phalla, adding that upon hearing about the incident, he went to Olympic market and convinced police to return the documents.

In a letter to the CNRP dated Tuesday, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong requested that the opposition stop the petition, which he claimed could cause chaos by disturbing members of the public.

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, also defended the decision to ban the petition, claiming that it was necessary to ensure public order, and was likely illegally as the petition undermines the spirit July’s national election.

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