The construction of Cambodia’s first “freedom park,” located in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, is set to finish in 20 days, according to municipal officials.
The park measures about 60 by 200 meters and is located a block behind the US Embassy between Streets 106 and 108. The space is almost completely tiled over and eight public toilets are being built on the site, according to Sam Samuth, chief of Phnom Penh’s municipal garden bureau, who said construction was about 70 percent complete.
Although construction will finish next month, Mr Samuth said he did not know what date City Hall would officially open the park and deputy Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong declined to comment.
“Freedom parks,” sites designated for protests and demonstrations, are prescribed for the capital and each province by the Law on Peaceful Demonstration, which was approved by the National Assembly in October. Under the Demonstration Law, up to 200 people can gather at these parks between 6 am and 6 pm as long as they give local authorities 12 hours’ notice. Protesters may still gather outside of freedom parks, but they must give five days’ notice and negotiate with local authorities, according to Sok Sam Oeun, Cambodian Defense Project executive director.
Rong Chhun, Cambodian Confederation of Unions president, said protesters would likely continue to protest elsewhere even when the freedom park officially opens, and he said he was concerned that violence could ensue. He also took issue with the time restrictions on the use of the freedom park.
“It restricts human rights. They should allow freedom of expression for 24 hours a day,” he said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the 200-person limit and the park’s distance from major government institutions hindered the efficacy of demonstrations that would be held there.
“It’s too small and far away from the state institutions who has the right to make decision. So we want the space…very close to the National Assembly or Council of Ministers so people can make their voice heard by top leaders. Otherwise, it is useless,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak dismissed the criticism, saying that the freedom park was created according to the law.