A public forum for residents of Phnom Penh’s soon-to-disappear Boeng Kak lake is in jeopardy after a village chief and his deputy allegedly threatened to close down the guesthouse where the meeting was scheduled to be held on June 12, rights groups and local residents said Tuesday.
The forum at the Lazy Fish Guesthouse was meant to be an opportunity for residents to meet with municipal and commune officials and discuss human rights issues and other concerns for the nearly 4,000 families who live around Boeng Kak and are threatened with eviction as the lake is filled with sand ahead of a massive building project, said Chhim Savuth, project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which is organizing the event.
But the forum is now without a venue after Chan Soriya, chief of Village 6, and his deputy Touch Huon threatened the guesthouse with closure unless approval for the indoor meeting is obtained from the municipality, Mr Savuth said.
“The threat to close down the guesthouse…is completely a serious human rights abuse,” he said.
Lazy Fish owner Aok Siphan confirmed that he had been approached by the village chief, who told him he would be in “trouble” if he allowed the meeting to go ahead without official permission. “They said they would close down [my guesthouse],” Mr Siphan said.
However, if permission is obtained, the meeting could still possibly go ahead, he said earlier Tuesday.
Mr Soriya, the village chief, could not be reached for comment Tuesday but Srah Chak Commune Chief Chhay Thirith dismissed claims that local officials had threatened to close the guesthouse.
“To close a guesthouse requires a written letter. Especially it must involve a serious crime to be able to close it,” Mr Thirith said. But, he added, CCHR should seek permission from City Hall if they want to hold a forum at the guesthouse.
“It is really important to seek legal permission…. If there is a problem, who would be responsible for security?” he asked.
SRP spokesman and lawmaker for Phnom Penh Yim Sovann said the forum did not require permission as such meetings are protected under freedom of assembly in the Constitution.
“It is a right to meet and organize demonstrations, and anyone who bans them are wrong,” Mr Sovann said. Even so, he said, it is common for local authorities to try and prohibit such meetings as they fear that more senior government officials will be criticized in public.