Phnom Penh will officially inaugurate Cambodia’s first “Freedom Park” demonstration zone on Thursday, deputy governor Chan Sam An said yesterday.
The 1,200-square-meter park located between streets 106 and 108 was almost completely tiled over yesterday and eight bathrooms had been built at the site. The creation of “Freedom Parks,” designated areas for protests and demonstrations, was mandated under the Law on Peaceful Demonstration approved by the National Assembly in October.
“The municipality will hold an opening ceremony for the park on Thursday and start allowing people to protest there,” said Mr Sam An, who declined to give any details on how the park would be administered.
Mr Sam An declined to answer further questions yesterday. But NGO and union leaders reacted negatively yesterday on learning of the imminent opening of the park, where up to 200 people will be allowed to gather between 6 am and 6 pm, which many suggested implied the future curtailment of free speech.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor for the human rights group Adhoc, took issue with the park’s placement, saying that protesters would be less likely to air their grievances if they had no reason to believe they would be heard.
“If the authorities only allow people to protest at the ‘Freedom Park’ and forced out of public spaces, it will represent an abuse of human rights,” said Mr Soveth.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, agreed that the park was situated too far from government buildings and said that the creation of “Freedom Parks” displayed a misunderstanding of free expression.
“The government is going about democracy incorrectly,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, adding that the park is located too far away from any ministries.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders project, pointed out that in order to protest outside the park, “potential demonstrators will have to request permission five days in advance of congregating and even those planning to protest inside the park will be forced to give 12 hours notice.”