Opposition Youth Sing Against the Ban as Armed Police Patrol

A group of eight opposition CNRP youth supporters sang a single song near Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park before police deployed nearby had a chance to break up their concert on Thursday, a musical test of the new ban on public gatherings in the wake of mass anti-government protests.

On Wednesday evening, the young CNRP supporters announced their plans to sing songs of nonviolence at Freedom Park and condemn the shooting deaths of at least five protesters last Friday at the hands of military police officers.

But with dozens of police suited up in riot gear and armed military police already prowling the fringes of the park Thursday morning, shooing away waiting journalists, the singers did not even attempt to enter the area.

Instead, the young performers opted to sing just one song next to the nearby Naga bridge, which ended before the police arrived.

“We planned to perform at Freedom Park, but since the authorities surrounded it we decided to do it at Dragon Bridge,” said Lim Kimsor, the CNRP youth activist who organized the event.

“We held the event to inform City Hall authorities that they are implementing the law incorrectly and that it strongly constricts Cambodia’s constitutional law and represses our human rights.”

After the brief performance, police finally arrived, followed by a truckload of district security guards wearing black motorcycle helmets, wielding batons and ordering the removal of motorcycles parked along the side of the road.

Ms. Kimsor said plain-clothed security personnel followed the singers as they left the area and decided to briefly take refuge inside the local headquarters of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Wan-Hea Lee, the office’s country director, said she was not aware of their presence.

The brief show near Freedom Park followed a January 4 order from the Interior Ministry indefinitely suspending articles in the Constitution, namely freedom of assembly and banning the public gathering of groups of 10 or more.

Suspension of constitutional rights, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP government says, is necessary to counter recent mass protests by CNRP supporters calling for Mr. Hun Sen to resign, and garment workers demanding higher wages.

The U.N. and several rights groups have condemned the ruling party’s actions, which experts say are illegal and unconstitutional.

The irony of the police sweep of Freedom Park and its surrounds was not lost on Adhoc, which put out a statement afterwards titled “No space for freedom of assembly in ‘Freedom’ Park.”

“In today’s Cambodia, even the smallest gathering is not tolerated,” the rights group said.

“Adhoc reminds the government that the right to free assembly is a fundamental tenet of democracy which they are bound by both domestic and international law to uphold.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Military Police chief Rath Srieng said that his officers were simply following orders.

“We just implemented the City Hall order,” he said.

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