Two senior human rights workers and six land rights activists were arrested this morning as they made their way to a protest in front of Prey Sar’s CC1 and CC2 prisons for the first “Black Monday” event, where protesters gathered to call for the release of five human rights defenders arrested last month.
Ee Sarom, executive director of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, and deputy director of Licadho Thav Kimsan were part of a group which was stopped about 2km from Prey Sar. They, along with six other land rights activists from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities, were also arrested and are now being held at Dangkao district police station and Daun Penh police station.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khoung Sreng said the arrests were an attempt to “prevent anarchy” and stop people who he claimed were “trying to plan a revolution against the government.”
“Our restrictions against their protest are to protect the government. We cannot allow anyone to stage a coup or a revolution in Cambodia, and this is important,” he said. “Our duty is to protect the government so we cannot allow revolutions.”
In a statement released yesterday, the government’s Interior Ministry warned the public and members of non-governmental organizations that any rally or assembly must be conducted within the legal confines of the constitution and pay particularly close attention to the Law on Peaceful Demonstration.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia always considers associations and non-government organizations inevitable partners in developing the country now and in the future, but any activity conducted by them must be within the legal framework and not in any way harm the peace, stability and harmony of the people,” the statement says.
“Otherwise, competent authorities at all levels will execute their roles and take action.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called the Black Monday campaign both a revolutionary movement against the government and a rebel group that has received assistance from foreign parties to undermine Cambodian society.
“They should find a solution through the courts in accordance with the rule of law, not protest insurrection. Some NGOs and those who are against the government always color the heat of political situation. Competent authorities of course would take action if the campaign clearly caused uproar,” he said.
“I think the black revolution is what they really want behind such a campaign,” Mr. Siphan added.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for right group Licadho, said the demonstration was the first “Black Monday” event in which participants dressed in black to call for the release of civil society workers detained by the Anti-Corruption Unit for their involvement with Khom Chandaraty, the woman at the center of an alleged sex scandal with opposition leader Kem Sokha.
“What the authority did was just to try and put pressure on human right activists. We would like to ask the government to release them without any condition,” he said.