The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is disappointed that the Cambodian local authority of Daun Penh District in Phnom Penh has prevented an attempt by its citizens to fly kites as a means of expressing their demand for legal reforms to allow for peaceful demonstration in public places.
Twenty-eight members of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC) had attempted to fly 100 “Kites for Freedom of Expression” in the park in front of the National Assembly building on the morning of 27 November 2006.
The kites bore an “f”, for “freedom of expression”. The organisers had wanted to draw the analogy of the wind being to the kite, what press freedom is to society.
However, the AFEC members were blocked from entering the field by about 25 policemen, who warned them off. Deputy Governor of Daun Penh District, Pich Socheata, said AFEC had no permit for the event, which she said would disturb public order.
While the two parties were still negotiating for a compromise, about 40 armed riot policemen suddenly came forward and seized the kites, tearing some in the process, throwing others to the ground and confiscating the rest.
According to AFEC, the police also ignored the presence of two members of Parliament, Son Chhay and Keo Ramy, who had tried to persuade the local authority to allow the event to proceed.
AFEC claimed it had given due notice of the event to the local authority, but never received a response.
It called the police action “a violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by both the Cambodian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” to which Cambodia has acceded.
It said such behaviour of the authorities was nothing new and that peaceful demonstrations were usually banned no adequate reasons given.
“This . . . shows clearly that there is need for a new legislation that provides protection for the fundamental liberties of the Cambodian citizens,” AFEC said in its open letter to the members of Parliament on 4 December.
It continued: “All limitations to freedom of expression must be justified as ‘necessary in a democratic society’. We therefore call on you to proceed with the draft law on assembly quickly and to assure that there will be more space for the people to make their needs and demands visible and audible (to) the Government and the Parliament.”
The open letter also demanded for total decriminalisation of defamation and disinformation, and a guarantee that the “Statute on the Ethics of Members of Parliament” adopted on 30 August would never be used to silence lawmakers in the course of their democratic duty.
AFEC is also asking the members of Parliament to urge the local authority to return to them the remaining kites. “The members of the student organisation that made the kites for us have invested a lot of time and love (in them),” it said, “and we are looking for a new opportunity to fly them.”