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Phnom Penh police chief says demonstrations will not be allowed in city centre during ASEAN Summit

(CCHR/IFEX) - 29 March 2012 - The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is deeply concerned over a statement made by the Phnom Penh municipal police chief that authorities will be preventing peaceful protests during the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) conference in Phnom Penh. In an article in today's "Phnom Penh Post" ("Police deny baton beatdown"), Phnom Penh municipal police chief, Touch Naruth, denied claims that his officers had beaten three female garment factory workers with batons and shields during a protest on 27 March in which one girl's nose was allegedly broken. Touch Naruth also reportedly stated that in the lead up to next week's ASEAN Summit the authorities will not allow protestors to march into the city centre. The police chief was quoted as saying, "If you want to march, wait until the ASEAN Summit is complete . . . talk together and defend the dignity of the country - and the safety".

Freedom of expression and assembly are guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as well as by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although limitations on both of these freedoms may be permitted in certain very specific and limited circumstances, the pretext of the ASEAN Summit is not a legitimate basis for denying these fundamental rights.

Responding to the repression of demonstrations during this time, Ramana Sorn, Project Coordinator of CCHR's Cambodian Freedom of Expression Project, stated:

"Freedom of expression and assembly are fundamental human rights as they belong to all human beings at all times. The attitude of the authorities that these fundamental rights can simply be granted and taken away at their whim indicates that they are interested in the appearance of freedom of expression and democracy rather than actually achieving these goals. As the chair of ASEAN, the Royal Government of Cambodia and all Cambodian authorities should use the opportunity of the summit not to stifle the voices of the Cambodian people but to facilitate the creation of a democratic space where ideas, concerns and opinions can be addressed. In doing this, the government can provide an example to the ASEAN community of the democratic and pluralistic community that it seeks to create."

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