A Low Key Black Monday

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Human rights activists light candles during a Black Monday protest to demand the release of human rights officials who are now detained in Prey Sar prison. KT/Mai Vireak

As the third Black Monday came and went, participants chose to protest in their own communities and on social media rather than in public areas.
But their fight for the release of four Adhoc officials and one National Election Committee member detained and charged in Prey Sar prison goes on.
Participants wore black clothes and posted messages on Facebook along with other social media websites, but did not gather in public after the arrests of 13 protesters over the previous two Mondays, as the government continues its effort to quash the movement.
However, more than 10 land rights activists from the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities gathered in a disputed community for what they called “SOS” near Phnom Penh International Airport, raising banners and demanding the release of the five detainees. The campaign was monitored by local authorities, but no action was taken against it.
Land rights representative Im Sreytouch urged the government to release the detained officials many see as being charged for politically motivated reasons surrounding the Kem Sokha sex scandal.
“The government must stop coloring innocent people as well as both local and international non-government organizations, who simply wish for Cambodia to respect human rights and freedom of expression. This is not a revolution,” she said.
Meanwhile, protesters took to Facebook to urge the government to release the detained officials, despite the government announcing on Friday that citizens needed to ask permission before doing so.
Four village representatives were questioned last Tuesday for writing Facebook posts in support of the five civil society members. Police demanded they take the posts down and issue a statement condemning their previous comments, but they refused and were eventually allowed to leave.
“NGOs help us a lot. So, when their staff is in trouble, we have to help them back. No one is behind us,” said Kroeun Tola, one of the village representatives.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Black Monday campaign was a clear attempt at a revolution against the judiciary and the government.
“No matter what, the Cambodian government will take action to prevent any kind of illegal campaign and color revolution,” he said. Government officials have now made it common practice to conflate these protests with a series of protests in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans during the early 2000s called ‘color revolutions’. Despite the very specific demands of local protesters, the government has been able to justify their harsh, sometimes violent, response to the demonstrations by saying it is an attempt to start a ‘revolution’.
At press time last night, several land activists in the Boeung Kak community planned to gather for an evening of praying and drumming to call for the release of the five detainees.

Human rights campaigners and activists walk on Black Monday with lighted candles to urge the release from detention of four Adhoc officials and one National Election Committee member. KT/Mai Vireak

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