Cambodia’s Freedom Park, a Site of Protest and Symbol of Free Expression, Reopens

Police removed the barricades and razor wires surrounding Cambodia’s Freedom Park in the capital city of Phnom Penh after local authorities ordered its reopening. The park was closed to the public in January when it became the main site of protest actions against the government.

The opposition has been staging mass actions since last year after it rejected the July election results. It also boycotted the Parliament and called for an independent probe of the election process. The opposition accused the ruling party, which has been in power for more than three decades, of using fraud and violence to rig the polls.

Anti-government protests gathered strength when the opposition supported the strike of garment workers who have been demanding an increase in their monthly minimum wages. In January, protesters clashed with the police which led to the death of five garment workers. The government ordered the dispersal of protesters inside the Freedom Park and it outlawed the holding of public rallies. It also closed the park citing threats to national security.

On July 15, some opposition members tried to reclaim the park through the “Free the Freedom Park” action, but they were quickly apprehended by the police.

But on August 6, the Phnom Penh City Hall issued a statement allowing the reopening of the park after it claimed that “security and order had been restored” already:

Now that security, safety and public order have been restored to normalcy, the authorities have decided to open Freedom Park from today.

In the past, the park was abused, provoking incitement that led to violence, killings and destruction of public and private properties. Those abuses were contrary to the law on peaceful demonstrations and that was why the authorities decided to close the park.

Many cheered the removal of the metal barricades that blocked the park.

CNRP is the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

The opening of the park is seen as part of the agreement between the ruling party and the opposition after the latter decided to finally end their 10-month long boycott of the Parliament. A day before Freedom Park was reopened, the 55 opposition lawmakers took their oath as new members of the National Assembly.

Some opposition members were at the Freedom Park to witness the removal of the blockade.

Mu Sochua is an opposition lawmaker. She vowed to lead protests in the park if the agenda for reform of the opposition is ignored in the Parliament.

It is hoped that the reopening of the Freedom Park, which has become a symbol of freedom of expression in Cambodia, will lead to greater recognition of the people’s democratic rights.

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