A pair of prominent land-rights activists are still being held by Cambodian authorities for their part in a “Black Monday” protest in Boeung Kak village that included headless dummies symbolizing the “brainlessness” of the nation’s leaders.
A family member told RFA’s Khmer Service that police questioned Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea about the source behind the Black Monday campaign, how they obtained the dummies and even about the source of their earrings.
“The authorities wanted to know where they got the materials for making the dummies, the Cambodian flags and other tools for the campaign,” Bov Sophoan told RFA.
“They even asked where they got the earrings they were wearing,” she added. Bov Sophoan is Bov Sophea’s sister.
Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were among the protestors who used the August 15 demonstration to call on the government to resolve land-grab issues across the country.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
In one of the most egregious land-grabs, some 3,500 families were evicted from the land surrounding Boeung Kak Lake, which was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
'We are willing to continue our fight for justice'
The two women buried headless dummies in sand pits for Monday’s protest saying they represent the court, court officials, Kem Ley’s killer and those behind the murder. Their missing heads represent brainlessness, the protestors told RFA.
Government critic Kem Ley was murdered on July 10, and many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that he was killed by a former soldier over a debt.
Hun Sen has sued oppostion lawmaker Thak Lany and Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy for defamation over remarks they allegedly made that tie the murder to the prime minister.
Thak Lany denies she made the remarks, saying that her comments were edited to make her look like she was lodging the criticism.
Cambodian authorities appeared to be pressing the women to give up their contacts in the Black Monday movement, but another protestor told RFA that was not going to happen.
“We are willing to continue our fight for justice,” said protestor Song Srey Leap. “We always keep our peers in mind. We don’t abandon them.”
Civil society groups and their supporters launched the Black Monday campaign after the bribery arrests of officials from the human rights group ADHOC. In addition to the ADHOC arrests, the Cambodian authorities also arrested an election official. At the same time a U.N. official was also charged.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials have condemned the protests as a “color revolution.”
Over the years, Hun Sen has repeatedly inveighed against “color revolutions,” named after a series of popular movements that used passive resistance to topple governments in countries of the former Soviet Union during the 2000s.
Spanish national Marga Bujosa Segado, who was among the crowd of villagers protesting to free the two detained activists, was released after being held for a brief time.
Reported by Pisey Sem and Heng Sun for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Wirtten in English by Brooks Boliek.