Police yesterday morning released a union leader arrested on Sunday for leading a demonstration, as watchdogs questioned the legality of the protest ban that led to the arrest.
Sok Chhun Oeung, acting president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) walked out of Phnom Penh Municipal Police Department at about 10am after signing a contract agreeing not to lead or participate in future demonstrations and notify police of any illegal activity of which he becomes aware, Oeung told the <>Post shortly after his release.
“The authorities who arrested me violated the constitutional law of Cambodia,” he said. “This action is a violation of human rights as well.”
But according to Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, authorities did not arrest Oeung – they invited him to the police station.
“We invited him so he could learn about how to follow the law,” said Dimanche, who noted that Oeung did not have authorisation to hold his planned vigil. Authorities released him, Dimanche said, because his offence was not very severe.
Public gatherings were banned in the wake of demonstrations on January 2 and 3 supporting a garment workers’ strike that turned violent, culminating with soldiers opening fire into a crowd of demonstrators and killing at least four.
Oeung was arrested on Sunday, after he led fellow IDEA members to Phnom Penh’s Riverside across from the Royal Palace, and attempted to hold a vigil honouring the 23 men arrested during the demonstrations earlier this month. The 23 detainees – including IDEA president Vorn Pov, for whom Oeung is standing in – remain at Correctional Centre 3 (CC3) in Kampong Cham.
“The arrest shows the government is going to be very, very strict in enforcing the ban on public demonstration,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “The problem is the ban in unconstitutional.… You can’t just ban public demonstrations without first declaring a state of emergency.”
A statement released by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi last week says such a ban is only legal under international standards if a state of public emergency that “threaten the life of a nation” is declared.
As Oeung left the police station – where he was detained in an office, not a cell – 14 IDEA members were in Kampong Cham, where authorities at CC3 allowed them to see Pov and the 22 other detainees.
After visiting Pov, Long Vuthy, who noted the beating Pov received during and after his arrest exacerbated a kidney problem, said the IDEA president seemed in rough shape.
“Pov’s health is still weak and his face was pale,” Vuthy said. “It seems likes he is suffering from his kidney wound.”