PHNOM PENH —
City Hall has begun construction of a new Freedom Park about six kilometers from protest hotspots in central Phnom Penh.
The original Freedom Park, near Wat Phnom in the capital’s Daun Penh district, became the focus of opposition protests in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 election.
Meth Measpheakdey, a City Hall spokesman, said the new site would be named Freedom Garden and could be used by protesters for rallies, adding that anyone wishing to gather at either site still needed to request permission from the authorities.
In a speech last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the use of Freedom Park, situated near the U.S. Embassy, as a protest site was bad for business and caused public disorder.
“It’s a commercial, diplomatic, and tourism area, or else, so don’t mess up this area,” he said.
Hun Sen said that the new location - far from the foreign embassies and government buildings usually targeted by demonstrations - would suffice, adding that people would still be able to watch the protests on social media websites such as Facebook.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior rights worker with local group Adhoc, said the new location was not suitable and intended to limit further people’s freedom of expression.
“I think regardless of the new or old locations, if the government still intends to restrict [expression] ... it will be useless. It’s important that the government is willing to solve the problems of the people,” he said.