Gov’t Official Attacks Critics of ‘Freedom Parks’

A senior Ministry of the Interior official lashed out at critics of the proposed freedom of assembly law on Monday, saying a newspaper ar­ticle detailing concerns about the law had been written under the in­fluence of “too many amphetamines.”

Defending the draft law, Interior Ministry Undersecretary of State Sieng Lapresse wrote in a letter that he had conducted his own interviews with an unnamed foreign dip­lomat and an official from the UN cen­ter for human rights, and found that they both supported the law.

The draft law, which was written by the Interior Ministry, requires that spontaneous demonstrations be held in so-called “freedom parks” for no more than four hours and be at­­tended by no more than 30 people.

“Those interviewed [on Monday] morning said the draft law protects freedom of assembly and speech af­forded by the Constitution. A UN rights office official…also asserted the term ‘freedom park’ encourages the protest to be more responsible and to minimize the damage of in­terest of others,” Sieng Lapresse wrote.

He also criticized Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who had said the law would harm poor farmers who travel long distances from remote areas to protest land grabs.

“A foreign diplomat said Son Chhay is a grown man, and he should not be afraid, because a freedom park is just a public square for mass tension relief,” Sieng Lapresse wrote.

Sieng Lapresse said by telephone that the law was also supported by US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli and Margo Picken, coordinator of the UN Office of the High Com­mis­sion of Human Rights. Both participated in a February forum held on the law, he said.

But US Embassy Spokesman Jeff Daigle said Mussomeli had reservations about the law.

“He raised a host of questions about the draft law,” Daigle said, listing the most weighty as a permit requirement, a limitation on the size of demonstrations and possible punishments for those who did not comply.

Daigle said that Mussomeli be­lieves the country should have a law on assembly, but added: “The Cam­bodian government needs to get it right.”

Picken did not respond to faxed, e-mailed and telephoned re­quests for comment.


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