Despite a government ban on public demonstrations, a group of around 30 young people held a “peace mob” yesterday afternoon at Freedom Park, where previous protests have been violently suppressed by authorities.
Two other peace mobs with similar numbers of participants dancing and handing out stickers were held concurrently at about 5pm at Riverside and Wat Botum Park to “raise awareness of peace building among Cambodian citizens especially youth”.
The activities were organised by an informal network of students and young people called the Mekong Peace Journey, with support from the Working Group for Peace.
The groups at all three locations – all wearing powder-blue T-shirts with the words “Peace is in our hands together” – were supposed to dance together before handing out stickers bearing the same phrase.
However, at Freedom Park, a sweets seller with a PA on his motorbike who was set to play music cancelled at the last minute so the young people there played games such as sey, badminton and football with a rattan ball instead.
The vendor said he had been in an accident on the way to the gathering and his equipment had been damaged.
Peace mob co-organiser Lay Dinna said: “We decided that this was the best way to promote peace.
“Lots of people pray to Buddha at the temples at Riverside but have no success, so we just come here to get together and dance to a few songs to promote peace.”
University student San Pros, 22, who was at Freedom Park said he was aware that the authorities might violently disperse the gathering.
“I think I put myself in danger but it’s my duty to promote peace even though the authorities might want to suspend our activities,” Pros said.
“We want to get the message out to people that we want our country to stay in peace.”
All the peace mobs were allowed to proceed unmolested by the authorities.
Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said in an email that he wished to “clarify” the city’s policy.
“First of all, a protest is guaranteed by the constitution; therefore, Phnom Penh City Hall never issues on any banning protests,” Dimanche said.
“The fact that we did not allow the past protests [was] because those protests occurred from opposition groups and also lead to violence and social anarchy. We do suspend such activities for awhile, waiting for the social situation [to] become normal as before.
“Secondly, this afternoon youth group did not organise any protest activity. They were gathering for dancing exercise the same way as other Phnom Penh citizen doing exercise as usual. And we do not have any reason to ban them.”