Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Chbar Ampov Authority Orders Shut STT’s Urban Poor Photo Exhibition, No Reason Given

A restaurant staff removes STT’s photos after local authorities shut down the exhibition in Chbar Ampov on February 25, 2024, a photo post on STT’s Facebook.
A restaurant staff removes STT’s photos after local authorities shut down the exhibition in Chbar Ampov on February 25, 2024, a photo post on STT’s Facebook.

Two days after it opened to the public, district authorities ordered Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) to immediately desist their photo exhibition themed “House and Life” in a restaurant in Chbar Ampov on the afternoon of February 25. No reason was given for the shutdown order of the 10-day exhibition planned till March 4.

“The owner of the restaurant told us that the authorities instructed them to dismantle [the exhibits] and stop [the exhibition],” said STT executive director Soeung Saran. “We don’t know what is the reason for the shutdown.”

However, the authorities’ act is a violation of STT’s rights as a civil society organization and an abuse of power by pressuring the restaurant owner to take down the displays, Saran said. The requirement for NGOs to apply for a permit to hold an exhibition is not stipulated by the law.

“I think it affects the freedom of our work, and such impromptu decisions should be fully discussed with stakeholders,” Saran said, adding that he wants to see the authorities “open the door” for civil society organizations to freely organize events.

They should be more understanding towards the common purpose of the work before deciding to stop the exhibition, he remarked.

“Because of this, it affects, firstly, the performance of the institution and, secondly, the reputation of the leadership [Prime Minister Hun Manet] who is trying to reform inaction and persecutions,” he added.

Sixty images featuring living conditions, housing and challenges faced by urban poor communities can be seen at the Home and Life Photo Exhibition on February 23, 2024. (CamboJA / Pring Samrang)

Chbar Ampov district governor Cheng Monyra could not be reached for comment, while Niroth commune chief Tep Prommony claimed that she was busy and in a meeting before hanging up the phone. Prommony did not pick up follow-up calls despite numerous attempts to reach her on Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Niroth commune police chief Hor Sylihov declined to comment as to why the authorities instructed the restaurant owner to stop the exhibition or if they had received any complaints. Instead, he referred the reporter to the restaurant owner.

However, Sorn Bormey, manager of Champei Garden Restaurant, declined to comment.

On February 23, 2024, STT launched a photo exhibition showcasing the life of urban poor communities, which revolved around issues of land insecurity and resettlements, lack of pre-arranged services and infrastructure and forced evictions.

The exhibition also highlighted the present condition of city lakes, where several have been filled up, and the environmental impact as a result of their alleged development by companies and public figures.

The event aimed to create awareness to the public, and enable stakeholders, including urban poor communities and the government, to work together to find solutions and promote the right to affordable housing.