About 50 police officers forcefully prevented villagers from entering a public forum on alleged election irregularities in Battambang province on Thursday, according to opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who organized the event.
Ms. Sochua said that the forum had been called in a small village in Battambang City’s O’Char commune to discuss irregularities but that the local commune chief had told her they could not hold the event.
“We were told we could not have the public forum, and then the police started blocking the villagers from different parts of the village coming to where we were having the forum in a private house,” she said.
Ms. Sochua explained that the police had at first used their shields to forcefully push away villagers attempting to enter the house—injuring some—and then remained outside to monitor the forum after the villagers forced their way in.
“The police remained outside the event and took pictures of every single villager who attended the forum, and of every time a villager stood up to make comments,” she said.
Moun Sarath, a CNRP activist in Battambang, said from outside the forum Thursday that police continued to block roads leading to the house where the forum was held after the villagers had forced their way in.
“There was some dispute, and now [the villagers] have entered, but still other roads have been blocked and they are not letting people past to come here,” he said.
Battambang City police chief Thuch Ra said that the meeting had been held illegally since the organizers had not sought permission from the correct authorities.
“They held the assembly without procedure. They asked the commune, and the commune told them to ask the provincial authorities—they did not do that,” he said.
Mr. Ra added that about 50 police had been deployed to the meeting in case it got out of hand.
“We were there since 7:30 [a.m.], and we allowed them to have the meeting. We were outside in case something happened,” he said, denying that police had struck villagers.
“[The villagers] walked into and pushed the police, and they said the police hit them,” he said. “I don’t understand what they were doing.”
Adhoc provincial coordinator Yin Mengly said that the forum’s organizers did not require permission from authorities to hold their event.
“This [idea] is totally wrong,” he said. “It was not a demonstration—it was in a house.”
Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) director Hang Puthea said that a Nicfec representative had been in attendance at the forum and had confirmed Ms. Sochua’s account, and added that no license was required in Cambodia to hold a forum.
“They should not have to apply for a license…. This forum was only providing information about the election. I think this is related to the rallies of the opposition party because they are afraid the forum will advertise a rally.”