Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh on Monday arrested seven women participating in the ongoing anti-government “Black Monday” protests, but later released them after they signed an agreement to stop demonstrating, a member of the group of activists said.
The protesters, who wear black clothing and hold protests on Mondays, were calling for the release of human rights workers and a national election official jailed on what many say are politically motivated charges.
Hundreds of security personnel armed with batons arrested the women and took them to a police station in the Dangkor district, said Chray Nim, a land activist from the SOS Community who was among those arrested.
Six were land activists from various communities, with the other a citizen journalist from the Phnom Penh-based Community Legal Education Center, she said.
Authorities released them after they agreed to sign a document pledging to stop participating in the protests, she said.
Speaking from the Dangkor district police station, Chray Nim told RFA’s Khmer Service that authorities had pressured the seven women to stamp their thumbprints on a document promising they would not participate in any campaigns or in illegal activities that would cause “social instability.”
She said authorities told them they would not allow such campaigns unless participants get permission from the Ministry of Interior.
RFA could not reach authorities in Phnom Penh for comment.
Suon Bunsak, secretary of the Cambodia Human Rights Action Coalition, strongly criticized the police move, calling it a human rights violation.
“On this point I think that the government should take positive steps so that people can have freedom of expression as they wish, and the government should listen to their intentions,” he told RFA.
The arrests marked the third time that authorities have cracked down on the Black Monday campaigners who planned to gather outside Prey Sar prison, Cambodia’s largest detention facility where activists and opposition party members are routinely jailed.
On May 23, police stepped up a crackdown on the protests and clashed with villagers in the capital’s Boeung Kak Lake area after ordering the previous weekend that Black Monday campaigners obtain government permission before posting their views online.
A week before, authorities arrested five land activists and sent them to Toul Kouk district police station for further questioning about their plans to meet every Monday until the government releases four imprisoned staff members from the domestic rights group Adhoc and the national election official.
The five have been incarcerated as part of the government’s investigation of Kem Sokha, acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), for his involvement in an alleged affair with a young hairdresser.
The allegations emerged in March when supposed recordings of telephone conversations between the two were leaked online.
Last Tuesday, CNRP members and supporters rallied in front of the party headquarters in an effort to protect Kem Sokha, who has been living at the party’s headquarters following attempts by police to arrest him.
The CNRP plans to hold a second mass gathering in front of its headquarters on June 14, the day on which Kem Sokha has been summoned to appear in court for questioning related to the sex scandal.
The conflict with Kem Sokha is just one of several legal cases the government or the ruling CPP has brought against opposition party members. Rights activists say the cases are attempts to crack down on the opposition and silence critics ahead of elections in 2017 and 2018.
So far, Kem Sokha has refused to adhere to a court order to testify in the case, citing parliamentary immunity from court questioning and arrest.
Movement against CPP
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that the CNRP campaign is a movement against the legitimate leadership of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen.
CNRP lawmakers have been collecting petitions signed with Cambodians' thumbprints urging King Norodom Sihamoni to press Hun Sen’s government to release human rights activists, respect parliamentary immunity, and stop harassing Kem Sokha and the CNRP.
But the CNRP issued a statement Monday saying that it will stop collecting thumbprints from members of the public on June 13, and will employ another method to submit petitions to King Norodom Sihamoni, seeking his intervention in the tense political drama.
The party has yet to set a date to petition the king.
The party held its first mass rally on May 30, a day after hundreds of police temporarily blocked the road near CNRP headquarters as some CNRP lawmakers attempted to deliver another petition to the king.
That day, CPP lawmakers unanimously voted to allow the court to continue to prosecute the Kem Sokha case, using an exception written into the Cambodian constitution that allows a lawmaker’s arrest for “flagrant offenses.” CNRP deputies boycotted the vote.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
Reported by Samnang Rann and Maly Leng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.