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Rights Workers Criticize Increased Gov’t Surveillance

FILE: Tightened security on the first day of the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 2, 2017. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

A right worker in Koh Kong province has reported instances of authorities’ increased scrutiny of people traveling through the province, including numerous traffic stops.

Human rights workers in Cambodia have criticized the increased surveillance and alleged intimidation of opposition supporters ordered by the government ahead of a contentious court ruling on Thursday.

Civil society groups told VOA Khmer this week that they had documented authorities scrutinizing people’s travel plans more than usual and questioning people they suspected of suspicious activity.

In Kongchet, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said he had documented instances of authorities’ increased scrutiny of people traveling through the province, including numerous traffic stops.

“We saw forces deployed and checking all passengers, asking where they came from and where they were going,” he said. “This activity affected the freedom of people to travel, express opinions, and political freedoms.”

The interior ministry order to increase security around the country came two days before the Supreme Court is due to rule in a case against the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which could see the party dissolved and more than 100 of its officials barred from political activity for five years.

Kongchet said the measures taken by the government reflected its paranoia over claims of the existence of an insurrectionist movement attempting to foment a “color revolution”, the charge levied against Sokha and other senior CNRP officials.

“In Koh Kong province, it appears that nobody had the idea to start protests or stage a ‘color revolution’ to topple the government,” Kongchet said.

In a letter dated November 11, the Koh Kong provincial administration urged people to stop supporting the CNRP as the party had “betrayed the nation”.

Yoeung Sotheara, a legal officer with election monitor Comfrel, said the authorities’ actions contravened the constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly.

“The authorities have the right to prevent [illegalities] but they cannot crackdown violently on the people,” he added.

Ouch Touch, Koh Koh province’s administration chief, declined to comment on the security measures, while Sok Sothy, deputy governor, denied the increased security presence was a result of the interior ministry order, saying police were merely enforcing the traffic law.

Son Chhay, a senior CNRP lawmaker, said the CNRP had no plans to organize protests in the coming weeks. “The party has no plans to do anything; we are still hopeful that we can continue our work peacefully and hope the trend will be towards solving the problem,” he said.