A city police chief in Koh Kong province admitted on Wednesday that there was no law justifying the actions of police who ripped down banners seeking the release from prison of current and former rights workers dubbed the “Adhoc 5.”
On Tuesday, police removed the signs in Khemara Phoumint City at the provincial headquarters of Adhoc, rights group Licadho and environmental NGO Mother Nature. The signs urged authorities to release the five, who have been jailed for more than a year without trial on bribery charges widely described as politically motivated.
Khemara Phoumint City police chief Min Reaksmey claimed the banners were taken down because the groups had failed to request permission to post them and because local residents had complained.
“People were worried that it could affect their daily livelihoods. After they installed the banners, they rallied at their office and used loudspeakers to yell to demand for their release,” Mr. Reaksmey said.
“They asked authorities to intervene, to inspect their permission and remove it temporarily,” he added.
Pressed on the legal grounds for removing the banners, Mr. Reaksmey conceded there were none.
There is “no law, but people filed a complaint,” he said. “[The NGOs] are playing politics that is in opposition to the truth.”
He said the rights groups should have saved their dissent for the capital, since the Adhoc 5—four senior officers of the rights group and a National Election Committee official who previously worked at Adhoc—were arrested in Phnom Penh.
“They should demand it in Phnom Penh, not in Koh Kong province,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he was unaware of the situation and declined to say whether the government in Phnom Penh had ordered the removal.
Pream Phayim, a secretary for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, who witnessed the takedown as his office is next to the Adhoc office, said permission for the banners was not necessary.
In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for Licadho, described the banner removal as “politically motivated” and said three other signs belonging to people involved in land disputes had also been taken down in Koh Kong district on Wednesday.
“They violated our rights,” he said.