Eleven rights activists were detained by Phnom Penh Municipal security forces this morning then released hours later after they marched to the US Embassy to deliver a petition calling for the release of 23 people jailed during the brutal crackdown earlier this month.
The arrested activists, including Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, and Boeung Kak lake activists Tep Vanny and Yorm Bopha, were detained by district security forces wearing black helmets after delivering the petition.
Six people were detained outside the US Embassy and five more, including Chhun, were taken away about 10 minutes later in a police van on their way to the French Embassy.
Chhun, who spoke to the Post following his release, said that he and the other 10 detainees were made to thumbprint contracts in which they agreed to not take part in future protests, a condition of yesterday's release of Sok Chhun Oeung of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association.
"We thumbprinted the contract letter that warned us not to incite protesters to illegally protest," Chhun said. "[Phnom Penh city governor] Pa Socheatvong does not respect the law. He ordered the security guards that are informal security to arrest us without arrest warrants ... it is illegal. The authorities do not respect the law. So how can we believe that they practice [proper] law enforcement?"
As the morning's drama unspooled earlier, several activists from the Boeung Kak community took shelter near the US Embassy gate, with embassy staff negotiating with the security forces so they could leave without arrest. However, the security guards formed a roadblock near Calmette Hospital on Monivong Boulevard, forcing some of the women into a waiting police truck.
The protesters then proceeded to the French and British embassies and the country headquarters of Unicef.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the continued use of untrained security forces to enforce the ban on public gatherings was a worrying sign.
“This comes from this notion that they need to establish control of the streets and remove constitutional rights to free expression. Only in a state of emergency this happens,” he said.
“They must be learning from China and Vietnam. This is what they do. These are basically hired thugs; it’s a lot easier to hire thugs.”
Others temporarily detained today include Boeung Kak activists Song Sreyleap, Pan Chunreth, Bov Sorphea, Erm Sreytouch and Ngoun Kimlang as well as Choung Sopheap from the Thmor Kaul airport-area community, Long Kim Heang of the Housing Rights Task Force and Cheang Thida, an activist with the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.
Rights group Licadho, in a statement released after the 11 were arrested, said that 22 of the 23 arrested after the crackdown on garment workers and opposition supporters earlier this month had been refused bail.
The Phnom Penh Appeal Court has yet to rule on whether Vorn Pov, president of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, should be granted bail.