Ministry fires back against CSO plea to free protesters

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Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said issuing a statement demanding the release of the more than 10 protesters is not legal and will have no effect on a decision. Hong Menea

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin on Sunday responded to 79 civil society organisations calling for the release of protesters who were detained earlier this month for demanding the release of union leader Rong Chhun.

Chhun was arrested after accusing the government of ceding land to Vietnam as part of the new demarcation lines on the eastern border.

The arrest sparked a wave of protests, during which more than 10 people were arrested.

Malin told The Post that issuing a statement pressuring or demanding that the court release the accused and drop charges was not legal and will not have any effect on the court’s decision.

“Determining the guilt, crime and punishment of the accused is the exclusive jurisdiction of the court based on the facts and the law in force. The only legal way to protect the accused in a democratic society and the rule of law is to participate in court proceedings,” Malin said.

The Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) executive director Moeun Tola told The Post that the civil society groups’ statement was merely a call for citizenship.

Tola said the Constitution states the country is owned by all people. He said in the past, authorities had used security forces to crack down on protesters, which he said is illegal as they are not judicial police officials.

Malin said while the Constitution states that citizens have the freedoms of gathering, expression and protest, the exercise of these rights cannot go beyond legal limits.

He said people must look thoroughly at the Constitution to determine which actions are the implementations of rights and which actions violate the law.

“Peaceful protest in cooperation with the authorities and in line with security, safety and public health measures are exercises of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the law,” Malin said.

But he stressed that it is illegal to hold protests without prior notice and cooperation with the authorities. Such protests, he said, can cause violence and social unrest, and affect public order and national security. Putting pressure on the judiciary, which is an independent institution, is also against the law, he said

“Authorities are required to take all possible measures to prevent this. And the protesters must be held accountable according to the law in force,” Malin said.

The statement issued by the 79 civil society groups on August 18 expressed deep regret over the authorities’ use of violence against protesters during recent demonstrations.

In the statement, they advocated for the release of the protesters and the cancellation of all charges against them. It also urged the government to fully respect citizen’s right to freedom of expression and assembly.