Authorities in Cambodia's capital on Friday violently cracked down on a group of protesters demanding justice for a man shot dead after police opened fire on the sidelines of an opposition rally last month, witnesses said.
Security forces forcefully dispersed dozens of villagers and monks who had gathered at the landmark Wat Phnom Buddhist temple to perform a traditional ceremony and prayers for Mao Sok Chan, a 29-year-old father of four killed on Sept. 15 during clashes at a key intersection near the Kbal Thnal Bridge in Phnom Penh after a mass demonstration held by the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“Security forces used violence against us," complained Tep Vanny, a community leader in the Boeung Kak area in Phnom Penh where villagers have been evicted to make way for luxury development projects. "One of them hit me until I was almost unconscious,” she told RFA's Khmer Service.
Protest organizer Phea Sothea expressed regret that security forces "abused" the people's right to freedom of assembly.
The gathering started off peacefully but "transformed into a violent confrontation with security forces, resulting in at least five people, including one foreign freelance journalist, receiving minor injuries," the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said in a statement.
Organizers held the ceremony ahead of a march to a Phnom Penh court to submit a petition calling for an investigation into the death of Mao Sok Chan, who was shot in the head amid clashes in which nine others also were wounded when police opened fire in the Sept. 15 incident.
The authorities have not disclosed details of the investigations into Mao Sok Chan's case more than one month after his death.
The petition had also called for increased independence of television stations, removing censorship and allowing stations to "accurately report the real events that occur in Cambodian society," the CCHR statement said.
"The organizers were prevented from carrying out their plan" by security forces in Daun Penh—a key district in Phnom Penh—who disrupted the group at Wat Phnom.
"They refused to allow the participants and monks to perform the ceremony for Mr. Mao Sok Chan and attempted to confiscate the group’s materials," the statement said. "The security forces also attempted to seize the cameras of journalists and observers who were monitoring the event.
The confrontation escalated when the participants tried to protect their materials and equipment, CCHR said.
Part of the group later managed to submit to the court a petition with thumbprints from about 500 people seeking justice for Mao Sok Chan and compensation to his family.
His wife Cheav Sokvy said she was disappointed that the authorities had not released the findings of the investigations more than a month after her husband's death.
Reported by Sochi Vi for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.