On the same day jailed opposition party activists called on Cambodia’s political leaders to set aside their differences for the sake of the nation, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a call to the nation’s armed forces to put down any so-called “color revolution.”
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Ho Vann, who led a group of seven people to visit the 15 jailed opposition activists in prison on Thursday, told RFA’s Khmer Service they wanted to see the parties end their political stalemate.
“They called for both parties to learn how to work together in solidarity and refrain from locking horns,” Ho Vann said. “We are concerned about the future of the country.”
While the CNRP issued a message of hope from inside their prison cells, Prime Minister Hun Sen sent out a darker message, calling on the military to crush any “color revolution.”
“All armed forces are obliged to absolutely ensure that Cambodia is free from any color revolutions,” the Cambodian strong man wrote in a Facebook post.
“Such a revolution will harm people’s happiness and peace in Cambodia,” he wrote. “Armed forces shall protect the legitimate government.”
He made similar remarks during the Police Academy of Cambodia’s graduation ceremony on Thursday.
‘It’s not true that the government has any resentment against them’
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) answered the jailed activists’ appeal with a non sequitur, saying the activists are jailed because they have committed crimes.
“It’s not true that the government has any resentment against them,” he said. “What has happened to them is the result of their commission of illegal acts.”
Long Kimkhorn, an academic expert on foreign political affairs and international law said the activists were jailed because of the politically motivated charges.
“Everyone is aware that the charges against them were politically motivated. It has nothing to do with laws and court,” he said. “If the politicians of the two parties resume talks, the court cases will be eventually resolved. Those prisoners of conscience would then be released.”
Thursday’s remarks by Hun Sen are not the first time he has inveighed against “color revolutions,” named after a series of popular movements that used nonviolent protests under colored banners to topple governments in countries of the former Soviet Union during the 2000s.
Civil society groups and their supporters began staging “Black Monday” protests soon after the arrests of officials from the human rights group ADHOC that came in connection with the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair between CNRP leader Kem Sokha and a young hair dresser.
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.
While Black Monday began as an attempt to pressure the government over the arrests, it has morphed into a more generalized campaign against government abuses, including land confiscations.
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 CPP.
Boeung Kak Lake land-right activists demonstrated near Hun Sen’s office and the European Union offices in Phnom Penh on Monday.
They delivered a petition to the EU urging it to stop providing the Cambodian government with assistance unless human rights situation improves.
“We hope the suffering of the villagers of Borei Keila and Boeung Kak will be addressed once and for all,” said Im Srey Touch, a member of the Boeung Kak Lake community. “Our main objective today is to appeal to the EU to immediately freeze all its assistance to Hun Sen’s Government”.
‘I hope he won’t be fooled by his subordinates anymore’
While they were delivering their petition on foreign aid to the EU, security forces dispersed them.
The 300 families in the Borei Keila community were forcibly evicted from their homes in 2012 to make way for development by the politically-connected construction company Phanimex.
Bov Sophea, another member of the Boeung Kak community and several other activists demonstrated near Hun Sen’s office as they petitioned for the release of activist Tep Vanny and sought government action to address their concerns.
“If our petition reaches Prime Minister Hun Sen, I believe there will be a solution to our concerns,” said Bov Sophea, who accused the prime minister’s subordinates of misleading him.
“I don’t think he will continue to turn his blind eye to our issues when he is better informed,” she said. “I hope he won’t be fooled by his subordinates anymore.”
Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were among the protestors who used an August 15 demonstration to call on the government to resolve land-grab issues across the country.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea guilty of insulting a public official, and sentenced each of them to six days of imprisonment and an 80,000 riels (U.S. $20) fine – a verdict the activists and their supporters said is unjust.
While Bov Sophea was released, Tep Vanny is still being held.
Reported by Heng Sun, Sarada Taing and Samnang Rann for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.