Police in Phnom Penh on Monday blocked the start of a campaign by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights to solicit comments from the public on corruption, after the municipality claimed that the initiative could cause traffic congestion.
Accompanied by a loudspeaker playing the recorded voice of CCHR President Kem Sokha, a pickup truck was scheduled to drive a black box roughly a cubic meter in size around Phnom Penh, into which the public were to be invited to drop letters of complaint, Kem Sokha said Monday.
However, at 9 am, some 50 police and military police stopped the truck near CCHR’s office in Tuol Kok district, saying the organization did not have permission to stage the event.
“We’re launching this black box campaign because we want to give the public the chance to express their concerns in writing about corruption,” Kem Sokha said. “This is a burning issue,” he added. “I don’t think 10 to 20 government leaders across the country can do it alone so there must be full participation from the people.”
Similar CCHR black box events occurred without incident in six provinces, including Prey Veng, Kratie and Kompong Cham, CCHR spokesman Ou Virak said.
However, authorities in Battambang province also blocked the black box truck, he said.
Kem Sokha lamented the obstruction and said Om Yentieng, human rights adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, had supported the campaign.
“I welcome any action taken against corruption,” Om Yentieng said. “We are cooperative. We want information relating to the problems, too.”
In a statement, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 rights organizations, condemned the obstruction.
“Such action restricts the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and is contrary to international conventions,” the statement said.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said the municipality rejected CCHR’s request to stage the event on the grounds that it could create traffic jams. “We have allowed 99 percent of Kem Sokha’s activities but I begged [him to stop] this one because it will affect public order in the city,” he said.
“We are not avoiding any responsibility about corruption. The government realizes this is a problem,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)