Source: KhmerTime | Wed, 09 March 2016, by Mum Kunthea
Phnom Penh City Hall barred more than 300 members of civil society organizations, NGOs and community groups from riding bicycles en masse to celebrate yesterday’s 105th anniversary of International Women Day, claiming the gathering would have strained public order in the capital.
In response, participants said the ban violated their rights.
Chhorn Sokha of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) said yesterday that the actions of City Hall and local authorities within Meanchey district banning people from riding bicycles in celebration of Women’s Day was unacceptable. About 70 percent of the participants, she said, were women.
“We celebrate this day by riding bicycles in order to get some exercise, cut down the pollution in the city and to promote a money-saving means of travel as well. If we look at the existing laws, we will see there is no law banning people from riding bicycles to show their support of Women’s Day,” Ms. Sokha said.
She added that the authorities had not won any favor for the government in the eyes of the cyclists.
“People support whichever political party supports the promotion of women’s rights and citizen’s rights. But what we saw the government officials do this morning was to ban citizen’s rights. There was no reason the authorities should have banned our bicycle riding,” Mrs. Sokha said.
Theng Savoeun, the general secretary of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community Association (CCFC), expressed his deep disappointment in City Hall and Meanchey district officials.
He said the bicycle ride was to start at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs at 7:30 am and end at the National Assembly, where they planned to submit a petition demanding a government push for promoting women’s rights in 2016, when they were stopped by Meanchey district authorities until the gathering dispersed at about noon.
“The reason the authorities did not allow us to march is that they were afraid of our effect on traffic, but our parade was not going to hurt the traffic at all. For me, I think this was only an excuse in order to restrain our gathering,” Mr. Savoeun said.
He added that a group of about 200 district officials, who were dressed in civil uniforms, authority uniforms and police uniforms, were standing in the street stopping bicycle riders from starting their ride. While angry words were exchanged between participants and the authorities, no violence occurred.
Mr. Savoeun added that the ban was unjust, and said it seemed like the authorities were afraid of the celebration.
“The ban did not profit the authorities, especially the government. On the contrary, it will cause a lot of criticism from the public and the world,” Mr. Savoeun said.
Meanchey district police chief Teng Sino said the ban was leveled on account of the cyclists lacking permission from City Hall.
“We allowed them to express their ideas in front of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, but they did not respect the regulations of the City Hall, so authorities absolutely did not allow them to march,” Mr. Sino said. “They don’t respect the law.”
He added that he would have welcomed them to ride if they had the correct documents from City Hall to do so.
“This cycling march would have caused a lot of public disorder and traffic jams in the city. Upper level officials would blame us if we allowed them to cycle,” Mr. Sino said.
A letter addressed to female cyclists on International Women’s Day and signed by City Hall’s deputy governor Khoung Sreng stated: “In case a gathering of cyclists opposes the decision of City Hall, negatively affecting security, safety and public order, those responsible will be held responsible by the law.”