Government and Teachers Spar Over Call to Protest

The Ministry of Education has rebuked the country’s largest teachers association over a statement it released on Sunday, sparking a war of words in which the two bodies accused one another of serving political interests over the country’s students.

The statement from the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA) called for instructors across the country to engage in peaceful protests or to strike if CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was arrested in relation to investigations into a sex scandal.

In a statement of its own posted to its Facebook page on Monday evening, the Education Ministry said it “flatly condemns” the association’s call for action.

“This act shows clearly that the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association is not an independent union that serves the benefit of educational staff, and this organization is just a puppet of the CNRP,” the ministry’s statement said.

It went on to say that CITA had previously shown its political colors through the participation of its former president, Rong Chhun, in nationwide protests in January 2014 for higher garment worker wages. It also noted Mr. Chhun’s current position as one of the CNRP-appointed member of the National Election Committee.

“Because of these acts to serve a political party, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports does not recognize the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association as an independent union,” it said.

Teachers “must avoid taking work time to engage in or express any kind of support that may detract from the benefits of students…and will be held accountable to the law,” it added.

The original statement by CITA was released Sunday ahead of a National Assembly meeting on Monday during which CPP lawmakers approved the arrest of Mr. Sokha despite his parliamentary immunity from arrest and prosecution. The director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said on Tuesday that an arrest warrant was forthcoming.

Ouk Chhayavy, CITA’s acting president, shot back at the ministry in another statement released on Tuesday, saying Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron—widely seen as a reformist within the ruling party—was the one putting politics above pupils.

“The education minister is serving the extremists of the ruling party,” it said. “The education minister still defends the ruling party even though he knows clearly that the government has committed unjust acts which seriously violate human rights and the Constitution.”

Neither Mr. Chuon Naron nor his spokesman, Ros Salin, could be reached on Tuesday.

San Chey, country director for the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said CITA was acting appropriately and that NGOs, including his own, should stand up in the face of social injustice.

“If someday, any [member of parliament] from the CPP was arrested in a case…we would still have a role to remind the [government of] good enforcement of the rule of law,” he said.

“We are not biased toward any political party, but when we see a wrong arrest, we will protest.”

(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)

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