Police officers’ removal of banners calling for the release of five imprisoned current and former rights workers was an “outrageous attack on free speech,” according to a joint statement released on Tuesday by 32 international and local civil society organizations.
The banners were taken down on May 2 and 3 from the Koh Kong offices of rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, environmental NGO Mother Nature, and private homes.
“These actions…occurred on private property and seriously undermine the rule of law in Cambodia,” the statement says, accusing authorities of infringing upon the constitutional right to free expression and citing a district police chief’s statement acknowledging no legal basis for the removal.
“This outrageous attack on free speech illustrates the increased shrinking of democratic space for civil society in Cambodia, at a time of approaching commune and national elections,” the statement says.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak defended the police actions on Tuesday.
“We just prevented an act that could bring the country into a Color Revolution,” General Sopheak said.
“You cannot demand we release them while they are under court investigation.”