Phnom Penh city officials on Thursday denied a request from civil society groups to march on the Anti-Corruption Unit headquarters to demonstrate against the jailing of four rights workers and an election official.
Mean Yada, city administration chief, said the decision was reached after a two-hour meeting at Phnom Penh Municipal Hall determined that the six signatories to the request were not representing civil society groups and the proposed march to the ACU clashed with a scheduled thousands-strong bicycle ride in the same area for European Union Day, due to be held on Saturday.
“During discussion with representatives of petitioners in the meeting, we see they showed their personal intention. So they came on their own behalf and not to represent others,” Yada said after the meeting.
Four rights workers and an official from the National Election Committee were arrested on Sunday, and on Monday were handed bribery charges over their alleged attempt to silence a witness in a sex scandal case against Kem Sokha, the opposition deputy leader.
The signatories to the petition for the proposed ACU demonstration described the body’s investigation as a form of intimidation and harassment.
Yada said a protest was no longer necessary as Om Yentieng, head of the ACU, had attended the meeting to answer the points raised in the application.
Meas Leakhena, one of six people to sign the petition, said she would march on Saturday despite having no permission.
“I won’t quit it. We will march [to submit] the petition. Everyone knows that the Phnom Penh authority never gives permission to protest.”
If Yentieng had accepted her petition in Thursday’s meeting, she added, there would have been no need to protest. However, she said he rejected the document.
Leakhena said the estimated 2,000 people who wished to join the protest felt they wanted to “give something back” to the jailed rights workers.
“They help victims but they end up in prison. We experienced injustice and scapegoating; we know they feel suffering,” she said.
Many of those who would join the march, she added, were the victims of land grabs and other injustices in the past.
“Permission or denial of their request to protest rested with the Phnom Penh authorities. I was only invited to the meeting to answer the petitioners’ questions,” Yentieng said.
On Monday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sent four rights workers and the National Election Committee’s deputy secretary general to jail on charges of “bribing witnesses” and “conspiracy to bribe witnesses.”
Opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha and two Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers were called for questioning over a sex scandal involving Sokha and his alleged mistress Khom Chantaraty, whom the rights workers and election official are accused of attempting to bribe.