Phnom Penh’s Panha Chiet University has informed the local NGO Silaka that it cannot hold a meeting on women’s rights planned for today because the event might deal with political issues.
Silaka had rented a conference room at the university for the meeting, intended to mark International Women’s Day. But, organizers were informed in a letter Thursday that the university would not allow it to go forward because Silaka also planned deliver petitions about women’s rights to government offices.
“Panha Chiet University would like to notify you of halting the hiring of the conference hall…on March 7,” the university said in a letter delivered to Silaka’s Executive Director, Thida Khus.
“Panha Chiet University has the honor to inform Ms. [Khus] about the above…because Ms. [Khus] has the intention to use Panha Chiet University, which is an independent school not involved in political affairs, to serve political interest,” the university said.
The letter states that the decision was made after Ms. Khus met with City Hall officials on Wednesday to ask permission to march to government offices to deliver the Woman’s Day petition.
City Hall denied Ms. Khus’ request, which has not been sent to the Interior Ministry for further consideration.
The founder of Panha Chiet University is Major General Run Rathveasna, the former head of the Interior Ministry’s economic police. He could not be reached for comment on the ban.
Ms. Khus denied that the planned conference—or the proposed delivery of petitions to government offices —served the interests of any political party, adding that Silaka was an independent NGO.
“Do they understand what politics means? We don’t engage in politics to serve any political party, but to serve the interests of women and we gather to solve women’s issues,” Ms. Khus said.
Ms. Khus said that she believed City Hall officials had pressured the university to stop their meeting.
While Prime Minister Hun Sen had made a statement indicating the lifting of the ban on the constitutional right to public assembly, lower-level government officials were not complying, she said.
Despite Mr. Hun Sen’s speech last week that the government would not prevent public demonstrations, in practice, all groups that have since attempted to demonstrate have been violently repressed by civilian security guards, or have had their requests rejected by City Hall.
Silaka’s scheduled meeting will now be held at the offices of Youth Resource Development Program in Phnom Penh, Ms. Khus said.