Two senior human rights workers and six others, including land rights activists and two foreigners, were arrested yesterday as they made their way to Prey Sar’s CC1 and CC2 prisons as part of the Black Monday campaign.
They were on their way to join other protesters gathered outside the prison to call for the release of five human rights officials who were arrested last month.
About 100 participants in the march dressed in black yesterday and included monks and land activists, but they were blocked by Khan Daun Penh and Khan Dangkao authorities.
Among the eight people arrested were E Sarom, the executive director of NGO Sahakum Teang Tnaut, Thav Kemsan, the deputy director of rights group Licadho, and Sar Sorn, a member of the Borei Keila community. They were arrested and detained at Dangkao police station.
Three members of the Boeung Kak community, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha and Pov Sophea, were also arrested and detained in Daun Penh police station.
Two foreigners who are confirmed to be human rights watch officers at rights group Licadho were sent to be questioned at the Immigration Department.
Phnom Penh deputy governor Khuong Sreng said the activists were detained to prevent anarchy and to put a halt to the demonstrations, which he considered to be part of a color revolution against the government.
“The strict task is to protect the elected government, which cannot allow anyone to topple or cause a color revolution in Cambodia,” he said.
“My duty is to protect the government. Even though there is a [revolution] or not, I have to protect the government.”
A Dangkao district official announced to the protesters that the detainees would be released after being questioned if they agreed to disperse.
However, according to a letter submitted to Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said detaining the activists was to educate them and make them sign a contract to stop participating in these activities.
The eight were released at about 7pm last night.
Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator at rights group Licadho, said that if the government continues on its current path of preventing freedom of expression among NGOs and civil society, political tensions and infringements of human rights would only get worse.
“Donor countries will consider and make criticisms after they become aware of these movements and they will ask the government to recheck their actions,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
“Civil society still demands the release of human rights officers without any conditions.”
The Black Monday campaign was designed as a message to the international community that the human rights situation in the country is dangerously unstable, after four senior Adhoc officials, a UN official and NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya were charged over their alleged involvement in the Kem Sokha sex scandal.
Civil society also called for Cambodian citizens who want to participate in the Black Monday campaign to wear black once a week, particularly on Mondays, to push for the release of the activists.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan called the Black Monday campaign a black revolutionary movement against the government, which he labelled a rebel group, claiming it had received assistance from foreign groups to cause a revolt in Cambodian society.
Donning a black T-shirt, Cambodian National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy posted a video on Facebook yesterday proclaiming his support for the campaign.
“Black is a symbol of the dark, unhappiness and violation against people. So we must together join to end the dark, dictatorship, in order to bring back freedom and democracy to Cambodian citizens shortly,” he said.
Police arrested eight protesters wearing black near Prey Sar prison during the demonstrations yesterday. KT/Mai Vireak