Cambodian groups decry rising incidence of heckling, intimidations, at rights forums

19 August 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

On 9 August, pro-government participants intimidated speakers at a human rights forum held at a village in Cambodia’s Kompong Speu province, forcing authorities to bring the forum to an abrupt end.

According to a 10 August report in the English-language “Cambodia Daily”, about 40 people at the forum started shouting slogans in support of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. The report said the government supporters tried to intimidate the panelists who were then debating social problems in the country.

Nhem Vanthorn, spokesman for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) which organized the event said police then intervened and shut the meeting down, claiming they could not guarantee the speakers’ safety.

The CCHR said the forum was going smoothly until a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party took the floor. About 1,000 villagers attended the forum that was part of a series of free expression discussions organized throughout the country by CCHR.

During a pagoda inauguration ceremony in June, Prime Minister Hun Sen had warned that the government might not always be able to protect from mobs public speakers who criticise the government.

CCHR later issued a statement noting an increase in heckling at its public forums. It also appealed to the authorities to create a conducive environment for free public debates on social issues.

One CCHR radio program manager suggested that a group of hecklers seems to have been turning up at their events lately.

“It’s hard to say they are organized mobs,” the radio manager was quoted as saying. “But their gestures appear to be (really intended) to intimidate other participants.”

Public forums are not the only activities vulnerable to disruption. In recent months, peaceful demonstrations in Cambodia have been either banned by authorities or attacked by a counter mob supposedly organised by a known pro-government group known as “Pagoda Boy”.