Cambodian authorities on Wednesday reopened Freedom Park after barricading the capital’s designated protest space for most of this year, saying public order and security has been restored.
But many believe that Freedom Park’s doors were opened again because of the political settlement between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose vociferous protests against the strongman had led to the park’s closure in the first place.
“Now that security, safety and public order have been restored to normalcy, the authorities have decided to open Freedom Park from today,” the Phnom Penh City Hall said in a statement dated Tuesday but released Wednesday.
“In the past, the park was abused, provoking incitement that led to violence, killings and destruction of public and private properties [outside the park]. Those abuses were contrary to the law on peaceful demonstrations and that was why the authorities decided to close the park,” the statement said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dymong, who was overseeing efforts Wednesday by workers to dismantle barbed wire fencing and other barricades around the park, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Freedom Park’s closure was not politically motivated.
“The temporary closure of the park was not linked to politics,” he said. “When we saw groups of people, including NGOs and political parties, abusing the park, we decided to close it,” he said.
The park was a bastion of the CNRP and many party supporters had camped in it as part of a campaign calling for reelections and the resignation of Hun Sen.
It was closed a day after clashes during an opposition-supported strike in the outskirts of the capital by textile workers left five people dead.
The campaign against Hun Sen was launched by CNRP President Sam Rainsy after charging that the July 2013 elections—which saw the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) declared victor—had been rigged.
Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy clinched a July 22 agreement in which the CPP agreed to implement election reforms and the CNRP agreed to end its nearly one-year boycott of parliament.
On Tuesday, Sam Rainsy and 54 other elected CNRP lawmakers took their oath of office before King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace.
CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann welcomed City Hall’s move, saying the park’s reopening stemmed from the agreement between the ruling and opposition parties.
He said the people would now be able to express their views at the park.
“When Freedom Park was closed, it meant the authorities eliminated freedom of expression across the country. Now that it is opened again, I hope that freedom of expression and democracy will improve.”
Am Sam Ath, senior officer for local rights group Licadho, rejected City Hall’s statement that protestors abused the park.
The reopening of the park has proven that its closure was politically motivated, he said.
“City Hall’s reason was just an excuse to close the park,” he said. “It was not a reasonable excuse.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.