Authorities in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh stepped up their crackdown on anti-government protests on Monday, clashing with villagers in the capital’s Boeung Kak Lake district after ordering over the weekend that so-called “Black Monday” campaigners must obtain government permission before posting their views online, sources said.
Now entering their third week, the Black Monday protests were launched by civil society groups after authorities arrested four officers of the human rights group ADHOC and an election official, charging them with bribery over their alleged role in a sex scandal involving Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Police on Monday evening clashed with about 100 black-attired villagers at Boeung Kak Lake, scattering lotus flowers and lighted candles that had been arranged to form the words “Free Human Rights Defenders,” witnesses at the scene told RFA’s Khmer Service.
After scuffling briefly with protesters, security forces withdrew to monitor the protest from a distance, and no injuries or arrests were reported. Villagers quickly replaced their display of candles, and the rally was later joined by taxi drivers and students from the community, sources said.
Meanwhile, government authorities on Saturday ordered that Black Monday campaigners must ask government approval before publishing their views on Facebook or other online platforms, prompting civil society groups to accuse the government of seeking to suppress citizens’ right to free expression.
Attempts by RFA to reach Interior Ministry spokesman Khiev Sopheak for comment were unsuccessful.
'Not under government control'
Buth Bun Tenh, founder of the Independent Monks Network, said that his group still plans to launch an appeal on Facebook calling on Cambodians to join the Black Monday campaign, defying the government’s order.
“The Facebook company is not under government control,” Buth Bun Tenh told RFA. “If [the authorities] want trouble, let them go and fight with Facebook.”
“We can clearly distinguish between ‘incitement’ and ‘freedom of expression,’” Am Sam Ath, a senior official of the Cambodian rights group LICADHO, said, adding, “Any online opinion that is not aimed at causing social unrest is supported by a citizen’s right to freedom of expression.”
To further press for their release, LICADHO on Tuesday will publish profiles of the five detained activists, Am Sam Ath said.
“These will include the number of days since they were detained, the history of their work as human rights defenders, what their families have gone through since they were put into jail, and their families’ appeals for their release,” he said.
LICADHO will continue its campaign to “peacefully demand” that the detained activists be released, he said.
“This is our strategy to remind the government of our demand that they be freed.”
Political tensions between the ruling CPP and the CNRP have grown worse in recent months, with the government arresting more than a dozen senior opposition figures including Senator Hong Sok Hour, CNRP media director Meach Sovannara, and Um Sam An, an opposition lawmaker.
Cambodia’s contentious and at times violent political situation has pushed it “close to a dangerous tipping point,” U.N.special human rights envoy to Cambodia Rhona Smith said in March.
Reported by Tha Thai and Yanny Hin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Richard Finney.