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Cambodia: 201 NGOs & communities call on authorities to cease harassment of community representatives over petition for support from govt. during COVID-19 crisis

"Stop Harassment of Community Representatives over COVID-19 Petition", 04 May 2020

We the undersigned groups decry the harassment of community representatives from across Cambodia ... These community representatives were arbitrarily detained for seven hours and interrogated while trying to submit a petition asking for additional government assistance to vulnerable communities during the Covid-19 crisis.

More than 30 community representatives from across Cambodia gathered in Phnom Penh to submit the petition, which has life-saving requests such as asking the government to distribute medical supplies to vulnerable communities; suspend debts from microfinance institutions (MFIs) and private money lenders; and provide direct economic assistance, including suspending rental fees for poor and informal workers and providing stay-at-home payments.

During this process, community representatives were repeatedly asked by authorities, including police officers, … Many questions focused on the community members’ microfinance debt, and some representatives were asked about their personal financial situation and were required to provide proof of debts to MFIs to district authorities. At least two community representatives were additionally summonsed and harassed after they returned home to their communities by local authorities.

These interrogations are insulting and appear predicated on the mistrust of vocal communities who actively exercise their right to freely express themselves.

…, community representatives gathered in Phnom Penh but were denied permission to submit the petition to the Council of Ministers.

… At the end of the interrogation, community representatives were coerced into thumbprinting documents that seek to restrict their right to continue advocating on behalf of their communities prior to being allowed to leave the district office.

… We strongly decry their treatment at the hands of authorities.

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