The Interior Ministry has approved moving Freedom Park from its current location in the center of Phnom Penh to a more remote location along National Road 5 in Russey Keo district.
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesperson Met Meas Pheakdey told Khmer Times yesterday that City Hall received a “principle approval” from the ministry to go ahead with the highly contentious relocation.
“We received a principle approval from the Interior Ministry already so we can now meet with expert officials to discuss how we should prepare, what we should do for the new Freedom Park, like how to build the toilets or how to set up the lights,” he said.
Mr. Meas Pheakdey added that City Hall had yet to start work on the new location as they were still in the midst of planning.
“For right now, we cannot do anything at the new location yet. We just plan and think about it only, but we will start work once we’ve completed our meeting,” he said, referring to a planned meeting between City Hall and relevant stakeholders, which he claimed will take place soon.
In December, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the relocation of Freedom Park, the only place in Phnom Penh where protests can be conducted legally, from its current location adjacent to the US embassy and Wat Phnom, to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. He said it would help beautify the city.
Since the premier’s announcement, civil society groups have decried the relocation, saying it was an attempt by the government to silence dissenters by putting them out of sight and away from the busy city center.
Rights group Licadho has also said the park’s new location would negate the very principle of Freedom Park as people who go to the new site to protest would not have their voices heard.
Freedom Park, in Daun Penh district, opened on November 4, 2010, with 1,200 square meters of space for people or organizations to gather for protests or strikes.
Activities at the park were temporarily suspended in early January 2014, but it reopened in August that year.
Residents living nearby have long complained about the crowds and the noise and will be happy to see it moved.