Pursat provincial police officers confiscated chairs, food and water from a Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association conference Thursday, forcing the group to cancel their meeting, an association official said Thursday.
Pursat Governor Ung Samy on Tuesday denied CITA permission to hold the conference, citing insufficient security forces and the group’s potential threat to public order as reasons why it could not convene.
CITA President Rong Chhun began the conference Thursday morning but was interrupted when 24 police officers rushed into the conference hall and confiscated its chairs, he said. “The police officers were very cruel to the teachers. This shows that the government doesn’t adhere to the law and the democratic process,” Rong Chhun said. Fear of police violence prompted the cancellation, he added.
Police allegedly prevented teachers from carrying food and drinking water into the meeting at noon and insisted two hours later that the conference stop completely, Rong Chhun said.
Pursat Police Chief Kong Sophara said he ordered police officers to stop the meeting because Ung Samay did not give the group permission to gather. He denied that police confiscated the chairs.
Kong Sophara said CITA required Ung Samay’s permission to gather because it does not have a Pursat branch. He accused Rong Chhun of disrespecting the governor by simply informing Ung Samay of the meeting rather than requesting permission for it.
Individuals and groups do not have to ask for permission to hold meetings, said Khmer Institute for Democracy legal assistant Hout Sotheary. “According to the law, one must only inform authorities about a demonstration,” she said.
To legally stop a meeting from taking place, police must prove that it would threaten social security. “If they held the meeting in the middle of the street, then they might call it a threat,” Hout Sotheary said, adding that the definition of “threat” is not clearly defined.
Kong Sophara said the approximately 40 conference attendees could threaten national security because they gathered in a large group.
(Additional reporting by Kate Woodsome)