Police harass environmental activists in Phnom Penh

The group wants the government to raise taxes on plastic bags to rein in their use.
By RFA Khmer
Police harass environmental activists in Phnom Penh Security personnel block the path of pro-environment demonstrators in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Screenshot from citizen journalist video

The activists, dressed in clothes made of plastic bags and carrying signs emblazoned with environmentalist slogans, marched to the rallying point where they would submit their petition to Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment.

It was supposed to be a peaceful march to urge the government to raise taxes on plastic bags and charge customers more for using them, in a bid to protect Cambodia’s environment.

But plainclothes officers blocked the way of the 20 marchers, pushed them, snatched their phones, and attempted to confiscate their banners.

“They didn’t listen to us. We are holding banners to request the government to listen to our two requests,” Ream SreyMech Rathana, one of the marchers, told Radio Free Asia. 

“Where is democracy? [We are] people [just] walking on the streets who speak their mind but they outlaw us and the authorities are resorting to violence and unethical behavior,” said Ream SreyMech Rathana.

The authorities choose violence as their response, regardless of what the activists are asking for, said Hum Sok Keang, another activist.

“We have observed that authorities don’t allow us to work freely even though our work is beneficial to the country but they think we are polluting the society,” Hum Sok Keang said.

After the encounter, a representative from the Ministry of Environment accepted their petition.

To combat plastic pollution, the Ministry of Environment in 2016 issued a sub decree ordering provincial, city and district authorities to properly handle trash. But critics say authorities have failed to resolve the trash issues, forcing the people to pick up plastic litter from public places.  

RFA attempted to reach the ministry’s spokesperson Phai Bun Chhoeun and the Phnom Penh police spokesperson Sam Vicheaca, but neither could be reached for comment.

Plastic pollution pollutes the environment and will discourage tourists from visiting Cambodia, said Chhin Chorvin, another activist.

“Plastic affects humans and animals and pollutes water,” he said. “When we use too much plastic, we burn it and it pollutes the atmosphere.”

Translated by Samean Yun. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster


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