Seven civil society organizations criticized the government yesterday after a working group was harassed by provincial authorities and blocked from making a video about a land dispute in Sangkum Thmey village in Pursat province.
The Pursat provincial hall claimed they did not detain the members of the working group and only questioned them because they wanted to “strengthen management and protection of natural resources.”
Civil society groups, they said, were trying to distort information about simple “administrative measures” and were accusing the provincial government “of covering a bad purpose.”
They wrote in a statement that civil society groups wanted to “incite people and cause chaos” under the guise of human rights protection.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) staff member Buth Vanndy and three film producers were hired by international NGO ActionAid Cambodia to make a video and interview local residents affected by forced evictions and agro-industrial development projects operated by timber tycoon Try Pheap, according to a statement released on Saturday by the seven civil society organizations involved.
The four were stopped at a checkpoint in Veal Veng district and authorities said filming in the area was banned, despite no existing ban on filming.
“Environmental police did not provide any reason to prevent movement or restrictions on the activities of the working group and the district governor did not give any reason why he wanted to meet CCHR’s staff,” the statement said.
The organizations wrote that their case was an example of the restrictions on the ability of civil society groups to work freely in Cambodia and called on local authorities to cease all threats, harassment and intimidation of NGO workers.
CCHR’s Mr. Vanndy said they managed to get around the road blocked by local authorities after about an hour with help from local Thma Da commune residents. But he was disheartened that the government officials were not willing to work with civil society organizations and were hostile toward people who were only interested in solving land disputes.
He said the efforts to stop their work confused him because of their unwillingness to address, help or resolve local land disputes.
“We had no purpose or work to do something against the government, which means that we are helping to develop it all together,” he said.
“But we see that some locations are inappropriate. We also recommend things to make it better but I still regret the non-cooperation from them [authorities].”