Police suppressed a protest by 25 family members of detained opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists Friday in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal court, where they were demanding the release of their husbands and fathers, several of the activists’ wives told RFA.
Friday’s rally was the fifth such protest organized by family members of the 17 CNRP activists who have been jailed at Prey Sar Prison on charges of “incitement to commit a felony”
As in previous protests, police officers descended on the scene and confiscated or destroyed their banners, ordering the crowd to disperse.
After leaving the area, the protesters marched to the Embassy of Australia to submit a petition asking for the Embassy to intervene in the case. The petition was accepted by embassy officials who promised to monitor the case.
The wife of one of the detained activists told RFA’s Khmer Service that she and other supporters of the CNRP spent personal funds to travel to Phnom Penh to protest. She maintains the innocence of her husband, Commune Councilor Las Chheng Lai of Bavel district in Battambang province.
“My husband did not hurt anyone. He is a gentleman. Everyone loves him but [the court] accused him. I cannot accept this,” said Leng Lei,
“It is very brutal and nothing compares to it,” she said.
Leng Lei said she and others had their banners ripped from their hands.
“When I came to demand my husband’s release they took my banner from me. It is very savage and unjust to me as a Cambodian citizen. Police did not allow us to protest with banners, so we couldn't show [the people] what we are demanding,” she said.
Another wife, Sok Bolyma, demanded the court release her husband Phsar Depo 3 Commune Councilor Khem Phenakry and the other 16 activists immediately.
“I urge all the CNRP members to stand with victims like us if you are unable to participate in our protests. We are the real victims,” she said.
“The water has now risen as high as the nooses around our necks, so everyone must wake up and not be afraid, because if we are afraid they will step on us. I am not afraid. If the court does not release my husband I am prepared to die in front of the court. I am not afraid of death, so [I urge] everyone to stand up,” she said.
RFA attempted to contact Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin for comment, but could not reach him. Previously he had said that since the activists’ cases are already in court, no one can interfere with the due process of the judicial system.
Earlier this week at least five CNRP activists’ wives complained that they were injured during their fourth protest in front of the courthouse on July 10.
Sam Chenda, the wife of a CNRP activist from Kampong Thom province told RFA that guards at court assaulted her and strangled her, leaving her with bruises and unable to work.
“My hands are swollen. My whole body hurts,” she said on July 10.
But the police denied any wrongdoing.
“We did not [assault them] Do you have evidence to prove that the police were violent? We only stopped them from going to the court. We did not attack them,” Phnom Penh Police Chief Sar Thet told RFA on the same day.
Right to protest
The CNRP activists’ wives have the right to protest under Cambodian law according to Soeung Sen Karuna, spokesman for the locally based Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
“Everyone knows these are politically motivated cases,” he said.
[The government] should resolve them to end the crisis and ease political tensions in Cambodia and restore human rights and democracy. It would be a benefit to the country and would help to avoid [international] pressure,” he added.
Soeung Sen Karuna said that the movement would become larger if the court fails to resolve the people’s demands.
The move to ban the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Last month, a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) urged Cambodia’s government to stop arresting those critical of its policies, including opposition activists, saying the campaign is a violation of their rights and will lead to a “societal split” that will be ruinous for the nation.
Also last month, 30 local groups—including Adhoc, Licadho, and Comfrel—issued a joint statement saying the government and the CNRP should “return to the negotiating table to resolve their political issues for the sake of society, and to respect civil and political rights and freedom of expression.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.