The government must lift its ban on peaceful protests and end the use of police violence against demonstrators and strikers who exercise their constitutional right to assemble peacefully, the Cambodian Defenders Project said Tuesday.
CDP, Cambodia’s largest provider of free legal assistance, also called for an investigation of the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys association amid claims the organization commits acts of violence against student and workers groups “at the behest of the State.”
“CDP has received complaints that police used violence and intimidation against peaceful demonstrations including workers, students, opposition party members and poor villagers,” CDP wrote in a statement. “This gag on free speech during an election season is a major abuse of the democratic process and will compromise the legitimacy of the elections.”
The alleged abuses were outlined in a CDP report sent to the government’s human rights committee. The report cited labor and student groups complaining of violence by the Pagoda Boys, a self-styled youth defense league for Prime Minister Hun Sen from critical elements in society.
“[The Pagoda Boys association] is known to have strong links to powerful individuals in the military and government,” the CDP stated.
“I understand very well the Constitution ensures them that right [to demonstrate]. But as the governor, I have the duty to ensure public security,” Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said Tuesday. “We have the [June 16 to June 18 Asean Regional Forum], I think they must understand this.”
Seng Sovannara, president of the Pagoda Boys, or Pagoda Children’s Intelligentsia and Students Association, denied the allegations against his members.
“If anyone wants to accuse us, they must find clear evidence,” Seng Sovannara said.
“We know the law…. If another side can demonstrate, the [Pagoda Boys association] also has the right to express its commitment,” he said.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Hun Sen and head of the government right body, said Tuesday he had not yet received the report but would consider it carefully.