At least 10 protesters, including Lous Sakhon, the husband of imprisoned Boeung Kak lake resident Yorm Bopha, were injured yesterday morning during a violent clash involving police and district security forces in Phnom Penh.
During the crackdown, described by a rights worker as “one of the most violent” inflicted upon the Boeung Kak protesters, Sakhon lost three teeth as he was dragged bloodied along the street, a woman’s arm was broken and a man was “nearly” strangled.
“I saw police, military police and security guards inflicting violence on the women, so I rushed to help them,” Sakhon said. “After that, many security guards beat me.”
The protesters were among a group of about 60 who had gathered outside the Ministry of Justice on Sothearos Boulevard yesterday to demand an appeal date be set for Bopha, who was sentenced to three years in prison in December over an assault at Boeung Kak that her community and rights groups say she did not commit.
When no one from the ministry was willing to meet with the protesters, they marched towards Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house on Sihanouk Boulevard.
A clash ensued after they were confronted by about 200 police, military police, Daun Penh security guards and commune officials.
During the initial struggle, Nhork Sophat, 42, was pushed to the ground near the Independence Monument, further sparking tensions and prompting female protesters to throw their shoes and water at police.
“They twisted my arm and pushed me over. I fell on my face and broke my arm,” Sophat said. She was taken to the municipal hospital for an operation.
A Post reporter observed Daun Penh District Deputy Governor Sok Penhvuth order security guards and police to make arrests.
When Sakhon – a figure recognisable to authorities – intervened to help the women, a leader of the security team was heard saying “arrest him and beat him for me”, according to rights-group Adhoc.
“He lost three front teeth and sustained severe injuries to both of his legs when he was beaten by more than 10 people,” a statement said.
Nget Khun, 73, the oldest of the 13 Boeung Kak women imprisoned for more than a month last year, was one of three people briefly detained and thrown into a police truck.
Another protester detained then released was Leng Chin, who was “nearly strangled”, according to rights groups, after district security guards grabbed his helmet, causing the strap to tighten around his neck.
Chin was taken to Calmette Hospital and later to a clinic where he said he was in serious pain.
“I cannot move my neck anymore,” he said.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said the violent behaviour of Daun Penh security guards in particular was an example of crowd control that was anarchic.
“They don’t have authorisation to do that. There seems to be no management. It’s poor governance and an example of poor structures when you have security guards acting like gangsters,” he said. “I think the victims are just really shocked.”
Long Dimanche, Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman, said authorities had cracked down on the “career” protesters after they entered a secure space close to Hun Sen’s house.
“That area is always being protected to ensure the safety of the prime minister,” he said. “What the protesters have done is cursed the security personnel and then attacked them.”