Five female activists were arrested during the second Black Monday protests yesterday after they gathered to demand the release of human rights officials who are now detained in Prey Sar prison.
At about 9am, five black-clad women from Thmor Kol, Borei Keila and the former Boeung Kak Lake communities were arrested outside the Chenla Theatre in Phnom Penh and taken to the Tuol Kork district police office.
Chray Nim, Im Srey Touch, Yin Shrin, Pouk Sopin and Ngov Nary were later released and allowed to return home after signing a contract agreeing not to hold any additional protests that are not authorized by law, according to City Hall spokesman Chin Buntheoun.
“Though there were only five of them, the picture they projected clearly was one that was able to cause harm, so the authorities took action. I think of course they can express their opinion and do it at Freedom Park or somewhere that is authorized or allowed by local authorities, but that morning they held banners and screamed. This is a problem,” Mr. Buntheoun said.
Government officials consider the Black Monday campaign a form of “color revolution,” referencing a series of political movements in former Soviet Union states in the 1990s and 2000s. A number of government officials have repeatedly used the term when justifying the harsh, sometimes violent, response to the Black Monday protests.
Civil society says their “black” protests are simply meant to send a message to the international community about the need for the government to release what they say are illegitimately detained human rights officials.
Forty protesters gathered in front of Prey Sar prison last Monday to participate in the initial Black Monday, a campaign organized by members of non-government organizations to push for the freedom of four Adhoc officials and one National Election Committee member who have been detained and charged for what civil society believes are politically-motivated reasons.
Monks as well as members of communities affected by land disputes also participated in the campaign last week, which ended with eight arrests, including NGO Sahakum Teang Tnaut executive director Ee Sarom and Thav Kemsan, the deputy director of rights group Licadho.
On Sunday, officials announced they were prepared to crack down on protesters if the “black” protest was repeated.
Speaking at the 71st anniversary of the National Police’s establishment yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said color revolutions or people’s revolutions take place only if actions are not taken by authorities. Mr. Kheng then called for authorities to dutifully enforce the law and take action against color revolutions.
“Color revolutions or people’s revolutions will happen if there is no action behind our management. This is the truth. If our management is good, no need to be perfect, then people can live together. A society will live together peacefully and there will not be a reason to conduct a color revolution,” Mr. Kheng said.
He added that authorities should accept legitimate criticism from the public and find means of fixing their problems.
“If people criticize forest management, we have to solve it…find ways to make good forest management. In justice and law, we don’t have to crack down on others, but we ourselves have made wrong,” Mr. Kheng said, adding that in the event that a criticism is leveled without rational basis, the government should not respond to it.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the newly-formed Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said if the government restricts the freedoms of protest and expression, human rights in the Kingdom will be diminished.
“It’s only five. I don’t think that their gathering…is an illegal action because they have the right to freedom of expression,” Mr. Tola said. “But getting strict, arresting and forcefully pulling them into the car was seen as awful and otherwise clearly showed that in Cambodia, there is no respect for human rights.”
Police destroyed signs calling for the release of human rights activists who were arrested by the government last month. KT/Chor Sokunthea