Opposition leader and lawyer Sam Rainsy might have spent more time on the campaign trail than in the courtroom lately, but that hasn’t stopped him from mustering his legal knowledge to challenge the authorities’ assertion that his ongoing sit-in is unlawful.
Sam Rainsy disputed the Interior Ministry’s claim that the organizers had not sought permission for a demonstration, saying his rally did not fit that definition.
“They said this violated the law because we had not asked for permission. They said we put in danger public order and quoted the law on demonstration adopted under the State of Cambodia,” he told reporters late Tuesday.
“Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy replied that what we are doing is a sit-in, for which there is no word and no definition in Cambodian. They said it still looks like a demonstration and since we hadn’t asked for permission, we wouldn’t be allowed to continue.”
Sam Rainsy also invoked what legal experts say is a more plausible argument—that the 1980s law is, “contrary to the Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and Assembly.”
Under Article 139, any law predating the 1993 Constitution will be declared null and void if it is “contrary to the spirit” of the Constitution. “So the law is definitely unconstitutional,” Sam Rainsy said.
But Prum Sokha, the Interior Ministry’s director-general of administration, said Wednesday he disagreed with the opposition leader’s interpretation.
“The law…is still valid because all the articles in the law have nothing against the Constitution,” he maintained.
However, Prum Sokha back-tracked on an argument he and other Interior officials made previously that the rally was illegal because permission for it had not been sought.
“It does not mean the demonstration is not legal. But there is a procedure on rallies in public places and according to the law that procedure must be followed,” he said. “We don’t use the word illegal but we think they must follow the law.”
Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party on Wednesday submitted a request to the Interior Ministry for permission to continue the demonstration. By afternoon, Prum Sokha said the ministry had handed on responsibility to the municipal authorities.
Phnom Penh Governor Chhim Seak Leng, a Funcinpec member, sent the Sam Rainsy Party a letter Wednesday night granting the opposition permission to continue the “sitting’’ demonstration indefinitely.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday night that Chhim Seak Leng “has no right’’ to authorize the rally.
“The municipality has no right to issue permission to organizers without getting…the green light from the Ministry of Interior first,’’ Khieu Sopheak said, noting the ministry has jurisdiction over the municipality.
Hok Lundy, the director-general of National Police, said Wednesday that the ongoing demonstration is illegal.
(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha and Chris Decherd)