Protestors beat two opposition lawmakers as thousands of demonstrators rallied in front of the National Assembly yesterday, demanding Kem Sokha, vice president of the National Assembly as well as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, step down. They accuse Mr. Sokha of having lied to Cambodians and inciting unrest through his speeches and actions as an opposition leader.
Mr. Sokha did not stay at the National Assembly, but videos posted online show mobs of protestors pulling CNRP lawmakers out of their cars and beating them. The incident happened around noon, when lawmakers were taking a break from the morning session of the National Assembly.
Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun, CNRP lawmakers from Kampong Cham and Svay Rieng respectively, were seen in pictures after the attack bloodied and bruised. One was attacked as he walked out of the National Assembly building and the other was pulled out of his car as he tried to drive away.
The CNRP condemned the violence against their lawmakers and demanded the authorities conduct a thorough investigation into how this was allowed to happen. There were security officials at both ends of the street but the violence could not be prevented.
“This violence was a serious human rights violations and violated the privilege of the parliament that is protected by the Cambodian Constitution,” the CNRP said in a statement.
Ou Chanrith, a CNRP lawmaker, said the attacks were completely unacceptable and directly blamed the government for not protecting parliamentarians.
“The demonstration this morning was improper and showcased the inability of the authorities to protect the safety of the lawmakers who are the representatives of people across the country. On the other hand, while people will protest for anything, we can see the barrier blocking demonstrators as well as police and soldiers stationed there,” he said.
“However, this morning, the demonstrators entered the front of the National Assembly very easily and we could not see security forces blocking the front of the National Assembly, and when the lawmakers came out, there was no protection for them,” he said
An Asian diplomat previously posted in Phnom Penh with intimate knowledge of Cambodian politics and its ramifications said: “Emotions are running high, because of the heightened level of rhetoric. The mob who got involved in the incident at the National Assembly Monday were part of a group that lead to heightened emotional state, especially anger and this is something which could not be controlled with or without security presence.”
“This has become a culture amongst political parties in Cambodia and this is an unfortunate incident, a contributing factor of which, would be the demise of the Culture of Dialogue and the immense political sabre rattling rhetoric which drew reactions from the maligned, which alternated between the CPP and the CNRP but in recent weeks, more on the CPP by the CNRP.”
Nai Vongda, deputy head of investigations at rights group Adhoc, said the incident was an illustration of the government’s view of protests. Whenever there are protests supporting the government, he alleged, almost no security could be found. But if the protests are against the government, suddenly the streets are filled with police and military officials, he claimed.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak rejected any accusations of culpability on the part of the government and said he was sorry that the violence occurred. He said the violent protests were in response to demonstrators in France, who protested against the arrival of Prime Minister Hun Sen this week.
“I am really sorry for this, but please don’t throw gas on the fire. If there was no security, it would have been worse and worse. Politically, please don’t throw gas on the fire and please don’t put the blame on the government,” he said.
“We should not put the blame on one another.The number of security officials stationed at the National Assembly was the same as before. We have a lot of security forces, hundreds of security forces. If there was no security, Kem Sokha would not be that safe.”
“This morning could be a result of the events in Paris. The prime minister is over there, so why do they curse him like that over there? The demonstrations are back and forth like what happened to the prime minister. They were angry the same way the people in Paris were,” he added.
Mr. Chanrith slammed the response as an attempt to spin the incident and blame the opposition for the attack.
“The people have the right to expression in France as well as in Phnom Penh, but please avoid violence. In Paris, there was no violence. It is a double standard the authorities are using. When poor people protest, they get cracked down by authorities and armed forces even if they follow procedure,” Mr. Chanrith said.
“There is nothing strange for demonstrators to express their opinion, but authorities here have no ability to protect the lawmakers. The protestors this morning did whatever they wanted without being cracked down and tracked down until now.”
City Hall Spokesman Long Dimanche said the leaders of the demonstration did not inform City Hall before they organized the protest. He called the protest “violent and unexpected.”
“The reason they didn’t inform City Hall was because they agreed to stop this demonstration and discharge at 10:30 am the same day,” he said. “City Hall condemns the violence against lawmakers and will take measures to find the culprit.”
The United Stated Embassy released a statement on the incident, saying, “The US Embassy is aware of reports that two Cambodian National Rescue Party politicians were assaulted outside of the National Assembly. Exercising the freedoms of assembly and speech do not justify violence and we condemn these actions. We call on the authorities to carry out a thorough and transparent investigation into these attacks, to maintain order at the National Assembly, and to ensure the safety of politicians from all parties.”
The protest leaders began the day by submitting a petition to CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng demanding Mr. Sokha step down from his position immediately. Most of the protestors dispersed once the petition was submitted, but hundreds stayed behind to demonstrate in front of Mr. Sokha’s house and in front of the National Assembly, where the two CNRP lawmakers were later attacked.
Chang Loun, a protester from Battambang Province, said he volunteered to attend the protest against Mr. Sokha because of the lies he told during the last election campaign.
But Mr. Chanrith slammed the idea that the CNRP was supposed to come through on their campaign promises if they were not in power. “The CNRP promised that when we win an election and lead the country, we will do what we promised,” he said.
But Mr. Loun said that was not good enough, and as a party with many seats in the National Assembly, the CNRP, he said, should be able to do more for their supporters.
“He didn’t build something and did not respect his promises to people,” Mr. Loun said.
Additional Reporting by Pav Suy and Jonathan Greig
Opposition lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun lies injured on the ground. dap-news