Women’s Day Marchers Penned Inside Stadium; NGOs Criticize Suppression of Rights

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Civil society groups alleged the violation of basic freedoms as armed police blocked hundreds of would-be International Women’s Day marchers inside Olympic Stadium’s grounds to prevent a street rally on Friday.

City Hall, however, countered that a street march was simply “not necessary” and would have disrupted traffic and public order.

Twelve NGOs organized a march from Olympic Stadium to the Council of Ministers building to submit a petition to the Cabinet advocating for women’s rights. But rows of armed police arrived at the scene during the morning and shut the stadium’s gates on about 300 gathered supporters.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said at the scene that the authorities’ actions showed the government’s lack of commitment to the cause of women’s rights.

“Today is International Women’s Day, but women who just want to exercise their rights to gather and march—as guaranteed by national and international law, in which we have the right to express ourselves—were not allowed,” Sopheap said.

Ou Tep Phally, executive president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said the rally had met all civic and legal requirements and should have been allowed.

She said the government “doesn’t listen to the concerns of the people, doesn’t allow people to exercise their rights in a democratic country.”

“People’s right to gather—rights to expression, peaceful assembly and marching—was denied,” Tep Phally said.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Mean Chanyada declined to speak to reporters at the event, directing them instead to Phnom Penh municipality spokespeople.

City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey said authorities respected people’s rights to express themselves, and themselves celebrated International Women’s Day.

“There is nothing more to demand when it comes to rights, because everyone has the right to celebrate together,” Meas Pheakdey said.

“It is not necessary for the celebration to have street marching, affecting others, affecting public order, affecting traffic,” he added. “We all know that our city has traffic jams even in a normal day. We are finding ways together to reduce traffic jams.”

Officials accepted the activists’ petition at Olympic Stadium and said they would deliver it to relevant ministries.

The petition raised seven issues, asking the government to end the use of violence against women activists, work to reduce sexual abuse against women in their workplaces, provide safety shelters for domestic abuse victims, and more.

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