SIHANOUKVILLE (Khmer Times) – The largest human rights group in Cambodia is criticizing the government for a “continued crackdown” on demonstrations after protestors from Koh Kong were detained and interrogated in Phnom Penh last week.
A small group of campaigners from the group Mother Nature Cambodia in the coastal province, supported by activists from Phnom Penh, attempted to stage a small demonstration outside the capital’s National Assembly.
The protest, against sand dredging, was monitored by staff from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc).
The demonstration had not even started when police swooped in, Adhoc said.
Protesters were marching towards the Assembly but were blocked by police. They were ordered to disburse and as they did police detained three activists from Mother Nature as well as a communications officer from Adhoc.
All four were put in the back of a truck and taken to a police station.
According to the detainees, they were all interrogated, and required to provide their personal details and fingerprints. They were also told to sign a document promising to refrain from future protests.
During questioning, human rights workers intervened and eventually secured the release of all the detainees.
Police said they later apologized to Adhoc’s representative, saying they had mistaken him for a Mother Nature protester, not a human rights monitor.
Protests in Koh Kong
Koh Kong campaigners have courted drama with their public fight against sand dredging. But their campaign opposing the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Koh Kong’s Areng Valley is their most passionate issue.
They say this campaign has made them the targets of authorities.
Critics of the dam say the project will cause severe environmental destruction to the pristine wilderness of Areng Valley, one of Southeast Asia’s most diverse ecosystems.
The project will destroy the livelihoods and culture of the indigenous Chong people living in the area. Most would be displaced by construction and flooding, say human rights advocates.
Supporters of the dam have said its benefits – including tax revenue, job creation and a reduction in Cambodia’s dependence on fossil fuels – outweigh the negatives. The government, however, has yet to give the project the green light.
Human rights workers say people are becoming increasingly fearful of demonstrations nationwide. Concern also continues to grow over multiple cases of security forces pressuring detained activists into signing documents that place restrictions on their activities, or commit them to refrain from protesting before their release is allowed.
“These are widespread techniques still used to restrict freedom of expression and assembly,” said a senior Adhoc investigator. “They form part of a wider strategy to oppress and silence those that oppose the government.”