Police in Koh Kong province raided the offices of three local NGOs in Khemarak Phoumin city to take down banners calling for the release of four jailed human rights workers, a land rights activist and an election official who have been imprisoned on charges widely thought to be politically motivated.
The banners at the provincial offices of Adhoc, Licadho and Mother Nature were advocating for the release of Adhoc staff members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Lim Mony and Yi Soksan, as well as election official Ny Chakrya and land activist Tep Vanny.
The banners were erected two months ago and taken down on Tuesday during the police raids.
Nhiep Sam Oeun, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said the raids were coordinated and “appeared to violate our rights as human rights defenders, who were only exercising our rights to call for their release.”
However, the Koh Kong provincial governor, Bun Leut, said the banners were not allowed as they occupied a “public space” and the authorities had not given the groups permission to put them up.
“We need to scrutinize the intentions of the campaigners. Regarding this case, I think they should conduct such activities [in Phnom Penh]. They cannot just do the campaign anywhere nationwide,” he said.
Asked under what law the authorities had acted, Leut responded, “I am not a legal expert.”
“Putting those banners in the public space is not a right and proper thing to do,” Leut added. “Whatever you do in the public space you need to ask for the authority’s permission.”
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager of Licadho, said he was disappointed by the actions of the authorities, saying the banners were displayed on the outer walls of the groups’ buildings, thus were on private property.
“Licadho’s [provincial] office is not a public space. It is a private space. We displayed the banners only at our office, not in a public space and not in the streets,” he said.