The Phnom Penh Municipality has backed away from its widely criticized—and widely ignored—ban on public demonstrations in the run-up to elections, requesting only that political parties inform officials of planned rallies in the capital.
“We are not banning them from marching or demonstrating,” Mann Chhoeun, the municipality’s chief of Cabinet, said Sunday afternoon. “If we ban them, maybe the municipality will be accused of violating human rights.
“We only appeal to them to inform us about any demonstration, telling us the specific time and date and also the place,” he said, adding that parties are especially being asked to steer clear of schools and busy markets.
He also noted that several parties have held marches through the city streets and said there might be trouble if opposing parties’ marches end up in the same place.
“If they meet up, it may cause violence and we have to avoid that,” Mann Chhoeun said.
Yim Sokha, secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, which held a march in Phnom Penh on Sunday, welcomed news that the barely enforced ban had been lifted.
“We think it is a good sign,” he said.
A June 12 order from the municipality called for the suspension of permits for demonstrations, saying a temporary ban was needed to “maintain good security, public order and a good atmosphere of neutral politics.”
The ban was announced on national radio over the next few days.
The order came under immediate fire from opposition parties and human rights groups.
And the Friends of Cambodia on June 19 insisted that freedom of assembly be maintained during the campaign, which officially kicked off last week.
The municipality later said that the order was not necessarily a ban, only a suggestion. But it still denied a permit for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party to hold a march June 21.
Sam Rainsy led the demonstration of about 2,000 people anyway. There have been marches by various parties since the start of the campaign with no official interference.
Mann Chhoeun said Sunday that there would be no interference with campaigning or demonstrations.
He said the municipality wanted to restrict access to busy markets and schools so as not to disrupt work or studies, but that officials would not stop parties from doing so if they choose.
Last week, police kept campaigners from the opposition Son Sann Party from entering Tuol Tom Pong market, but Mann Chhoeun said that would not happen again.
“That was a misunderstanding on the part of officials on the lower level. That problem is over,” he said.