Obfuscation reigns over ban on demonstration

The government can’t seem to agree on whether or not Prime Minister Hun Sen has lifted the ban on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly. Last week, Mr. Hun Sen said in a speech: “I will not prevent [demonstrations] because everyone has equal rights,” which government officials quickly interpreted, in theory, as the lifting of the ban on public gatherings, imposed by the Ministry of Interior on January 4. … In practice, however, no one seems to be listening. Three former residents of the Boeng Kak lake community were detained Wednesday outside City Hall, where they had parked a tuk-tuk mounted with loudspeakers to call for Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong to provide additional compensation for the loss of their homes through forced eviction. … The municipality has also twice this week rejected requests to hold public gatherings in Freedom Park: the first by a group of 18 labor unions and associations, who are planning a nationwide labor strike calling for a $160 minimum wage, and, the second, by well-known radio station owner Mam Sonando. … The 2009 Law on Peaceful Assembly states that rally organizers must notify authorities of their intentions to gather five days in advance of a planned protest, but do not need express permission from authorities to proceed. … General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that Mr. Hun Sen’s speech did indeed trump the ministry’s ban on demonstrations, but that the Ministry of Interior had still denied a request by labor unions, submitted on February 26, to hold the public forum in Freedom Park on Saturday. …

Kuch Naren and Mech Dara