Police in Mondolkiri province have ordered a villager to take down a banner calling for the release of five jailed rights workers from outside his house, following two similar cases in Koh Kong province last week.
Kroeung Sra, a farmer in Pech Chreada district, said he received the large plastic banner in February from rights group Adhoc. It calls for the release of five current and former employees who have been in pre-trial detention for over a year on charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Mr. Sra said deputy Bosra commune police chief Thlang Choul called him to his house on Sunday, where the officer told him to take the sign down.
“He asked me to remove the banner and I suggested he show me a court warrant and he did not have one,” Mr. Sra said on Wednesday. “He just said his superiors ordered him to remove the banner.”
Mr. Sra said he agreed to put the sign away the next day in order to spare the deputy police chief any problems with his boss.
“I don’t think what I did was wrong, because there are no laws that ban people from putting up a banner at their house,” he said. “I agreed to remove it because the policeman is my neighbor and I don’t want him to get into trouble.”
Mr. Choul could not be reached on Wednesday.
Commune police chief Soeun Sopheak admitted to ordering his deputy to have the banner removed, but referred additional questions to district police chief Sao Sovannarith, who declined to comment.
Adhoc provincial coordinator Sok Ratha said the order was a blatant breach of the constitutional right to free speech.
“The Constitution gives people the right to express their opinions, like with banners, media and other publications; it is guaranteed by law,” he said.
Mr. Ratha said Adhoc had provided seven communes across the province with the same banner and this was the only one to be removed so far.
Last week, police in Koh Kong province removed an identical banner from a private home, the day after ordering a separate removal. Police conceded that there was no law justifying the move.
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