Six youth activists were detained for a night for collecting thumbprints — despite the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak — for a petition calling on the government to ease citizens’ costs of living, the Phnom Penh governor said.
“What they are looking for — thumbprints — that is against the Covid-19 rules,” Khuong Sreng said.
The activists had admitted their guilt and were released, he said, adding that such actions could lead to legal action if they were infected with Covid-19 and had transmitted the disease to others.
The governor added that they were focusing on the wrong issue at the wrong time.
“At this time, they should be holding banners and telling all people to wear masks to protect themselves from Covid-19,” Sreng said. “That would be the most appropriate.”
Keo Tith Lida, president of the Women’s Association for Society, said three of her members had been arrested on Wednesday while making copies of their petition to deliver to Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday.
She and two other members went to the Stung Meanchey 1 commune police station to try to secure the others’ release, but they were also detained, Tith Lida said.
The group has been collecting thumbprints for a petition calling on the government to ease people’s financial burdens. The petition suggests suspending payments to microfinance institutions and banks, halting water and electricity bills, reducing the price of gasoline, or halving businesses’ rent for three to six months.
Tith Lida said the six activists were detained overnight and released around 5 p.m. on Thursday.
“We were asked to make a contract … to not gather youths, to not collect thumbprints during Covid, and to not make any propaganda,” she said.
The campaign had now been suspended, she said.
Am Sam Ath, rights group Licadho’s monitoring manager, said everyone should be following the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 guidelines.
“There should be a discussion about solutions, and, in the future, they will follow the measures of the Ministry of Health and of the authorities about preventing the spread of Covid-19. That would be good,” Sam Ath said.
Tith Lida previously said the group had collected more than 200 thumbprints for its petition.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to tens of thousands of job losses in Cambodia, with tourism having plummeted amid disruptions to global travel, and garment factories losing orders due to suppressed worldwide consumer demand.
More than 700,000 households, or about 2 million people, have received emergency cash handouts as part of the government’s IDPoor program, the Planning Ministry said last month.