Cambodia’s “Black Monday” protest campaign restarted this week after it was put on hold for two weeks as it appeared the government was preparing to release jailed activists and an election commission official.
When the release of the “Kem Sokha Five” and land-rights activist Tep Vanny failed to materialize, Black Monday organizers resumed their protests on Jan. 9.
Activists wearing black have demonstrated for 36 Mondays in an effort to win the release of four human rights workers and an election official who were jailed on charges widely seen as attempts to muzzle the political opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association), and National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya were arrested in April.
They are accused of attempting to pay hush money to opposition leader Kem Sokha’s purported mistress in the government’s wide-ranging probe into the alleged affair.
Kem Sokha received a royal pardon in December at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen for charged related to the government investigation. His pardon and that of a local Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official raised hope that the others would go free.
That hope appeared to be dashed, however, when negotiations broke down after Kem Sokha refused to make a statement endorsed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) denouncing anyone who made derogatory statements related to the paternity of Hun Sen’s eldest son, sources have told RFA.
In addition, the Black Monday protestors hoped to free Tep Vanny, who was convicted on Sept. 19 of insulting and obstructing public officials and was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to a protest in November 2011 near Hun Sen’s residence.
Tep Vanny gained prominence as an activist fighting the Boeung Kak lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from the neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh.
Her attorney was absent from the courtroom in what some human rights organizations called an abuse of her right to a fair trial.
The lake was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.
Seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents— is a major cause of protests in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Laos.
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.
Reported by Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.