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Armed police, officials disrupt human rights training event

(CCHR/IFEX) - 7 September 2011 - Village, commune and district authorities, together with police armed with AK47s, disrupted a human rights training event on 7 September. The event was organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Natural Resources Protection Group (NRPG) in Mean Rith commune, Sandan district, Kampong Thom Province. Those involved in the disruption threatened to arrest the organisers if the event proceeded. It was the second such disruption in a month.

While no arrests were made, officials and police photographed individuals seeking to participate in the event. The people involved in the event were community members affected by the ongoing destruction of Prey Lang forest or other land conflicts, as well as event organisers and observers.

The training event was the first to be held by the CCHR and the NRPG following a media report in "The Cambodia Daily" on 6 September. The report quoted Kampong Thom provincial police chief Phan Sopheng as accusing the two groups of inciting people through the provision of human rights training. He threatened to seek the suspension of both groups if further training events were conducted.

On 6 September, the chief monk at Wat Kiribotaram, under pressure from commune and district-level officials, withdrew the permission he previously granted to both groups for the use of the pagoda. The groups were supposed to hold a training event on 8 September in Dang Kambith commune for another community affected by the destruction of Prey Lang.

On the morning of 7 September at 8:30am, staff from CCHR and NRPG arrived in Mean Rith commune to prepare the venue for the training event. The training was organised in response to information from community members that deforestation activities in the area had increased of late.

In total, 34 participants registered to take part in the training although organisers were informed by participants that others had been stopped from traveling to take part in the event. Shortly after the venue was prepared, officials and police arrived and informed CCHR and NRPG that, if they were to proceed with the event, they would be arrested.

Commune and district officials stated that the organisers had failed to provide adequate notice of the event. However, the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations provides that no such notice is required for "education dissemination activities" including training events. The organisers had nevertheless informed the provincial authorities of the event in writing.

Under the direction of the deputy governor of Sandan district, Div Hok, police photographed all participants who had registered for the event as well as the organisers and observers from The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) and The Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).

Div Hok requested that the organisers provide the identity cards of all participants and observers. This request was denied. After a two-hour stand-off between the authorities and the organisers, the event was eventually allowed to proceed following a discussion with Sandan district council member Uch Bunhy.

In response to the intervention of officials and armed police, Ou Virak, President of CCHR, commented:

"For the second time in less than a month, a human rights training event organised by CCHR and NRPG has been disrupted by men carrying AK-47s. Again, the authorities have claimed that CCHR and NRPG have failed to satisfy notification requirements that simply do not exist. To see the authorities resort to these kinds of tactics against ordinary citizens who simply want to inform themselves of their rights under Cambodian and international law is nothing short of shocking. Nevertheless, what I will remember most from today is not the school yard bully-boy tactics deployed by the authorities; rather it is the defiance of the participants - ordinary people motivated by their desire to inform themselves of their human rights under Cambodian and international law facing down armed police."

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