PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia has banned a public rally to mark International Women’s Day, organisers have said, amid growing concern about a crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.
Phnom Penh municipal authorities rejected a request by trade unions and non-governmental organisations to mark the day’s 100th anniversary with a large gathering in the capital, the Cambodian Women’s Movement Organisation said.
No reason was given for the refusal, organisers said.
“It’s a sad commentary on the current state of human rights in Cambodia,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“It says that the government is not committed to permitting a free exercise of the right to associate and the right to assemble. Women have to organise to assert their rights in countries like Cambodia,” he told AFP.
Cambodian Women’s Movement Organisation president Meas Morokot said the decision to ban the public event was “regrettable”.
“Our planned rally does not serve any political party. We all just want to celebrate women,” she said.
Organisers will instead hold a gathering for some 1,800 people on private property on the outskirts of the city, she added.
Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuk Tema, whose signature was on the letter banning the rally, said he was too busy to comment.
The Cambodian government has come under fire from rights groups in recent months for stifling free speech and cracking down on critics.
Late last year the government opened a so-called Freedom Park in the capital, a designated protest area that rights groups said was an attempt to keep protesters out of sight and would be used to deny requests for rallies to be staged elsewhere in the city.
“It’s clear that the government has an almost knee-jerk reaction against any sort of rally, for whatever purpose, in central Phnom Penh,” Robertson said.
International Women’s Day is a public holiday in Cambodia and celebratory banners have been erected in the capital to draw attention to the occasion.