Authorities in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on Thursday physically removed opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua from the city’s Freedom Park for the second time in two days after she visited the area to highlight the ongoing presence of riot police due to a ban on protests in the public space.
Municipal police confronted the elected member of parliament for the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as she read from a legal text in the park, prompting her to accuse them of acting as “judicial police who can arrest and detain people at will.”
She refused to leave the area and sat down on the ground, at which point the police officers lifted her up and forcibly removed her, causing her to demand to know, “What have I done wrong?”
Authorities told the CNRP last week that Freedom Park is off-limits for gatherings while they investigate violence linked to an early January crackdown on opposition supporters.
Until the crackdown, the park had been a rallying point for mass anti-government protests following flawed elections last year.
The opposition had gathered there to call for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation and a reelection of disputed July 28 polls that saw his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) named the victor by the country’s government-appointed electoral body.
Following her forced removal from the park, Mu Sochua, who is also the CNRP’s director of public affairs, told RFA’s Khmer Service that she had visited Freedom Park over the last two days in order to “demand the people’s rights back.”
“I was protesting by myself. What I have done was as a citizen and a woman,” she said.
“I want to fight back for our freedom in Freedom Park.”
Mu Sochua said that she would return to the park every morning at 8:00 a.m. “until the guards understand the meaning of freedom and respect the park as a place to express people’s rights.”
She said that she had launched the campaign as a “citizen of Cambodia” and not in affiliation with any political party, she explained, though the CNRP has supported her individual efforts.
Mu Sochua’s removal from the park follows an incident on Wednesday in which she posed for photos in front of a group of around 100 municipal police gathered in Freedom Park to conduct exercises.
She was quickly surrounded by helmet-clad security guards employed by the Interior Ministry and removed to a nearby street.
The Cambodia Daily quoted Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dymong as saying that Mu Sochua was required to apply in writing to the government before entering the park due to her tendency to begin protests.
“As we know, under the demonstrations law, people need to ask or inform [the municipality] for permission first,” Long Dymong said.
“When she arrived, she wanted to rally with people and express her views,” he said. “That is against the law.”
The Cambodia Daily also quoted General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, who acknowledged that Mu Sochua hadn’t violated any laws or edicts, adding that the district security guards simply didn’t like her.
“She went alone to Freedom Park. This is not under the guidelines of the municipality, or any other law,” Khieu Sopheak said.
“This was about her personal behavior. They don’t like her. She always just goes there to provoke and blame them.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.