A peaceful rally led by Beehive Radio president Mam Sonando outside the Ministry of Information on Monivong Boulevard this morning was dispersed at about 10am after more than 100 military police charged, unloading volleys of smoke canisters and swinging batons to clear away stragglers.
Daun Penh security guards – the untrained, helmeted men that have been prominently used to violently enforce the ban on public assembly in recent weeks – also joined in, clubbing those, including some journalists, who failed to get away quickly enough.
Surrounding streets were quickly cordoned off and cleared following the charge, with protesters retreating or being chased down side streets and many gathering in parkland near Wat Phnom and the US Embassy.
Sonando and his supporters – who are routinely critical of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – were rallying for licences for increased radio bandwidth and a TV station. Many joining the protest also offered scathing comments about Prime Minister Hun Sen and the state of human rights in Cambodia.
Huon Phannary, assistant to Sonando, told the Post that the activist had escaped safely and was unhurt. At least three protesters were seen with injuries by Post staff, including two with bleeding head wounds.
Permission for the protest had been rejected by the Ministry of Interior and City Hall, though Sonando’s group had pledged to defy the ban, despite clashes yesterday between security guards and union-led protesters at Freedom Park.
About 500 people had gathered at the Naga Bridge near the park by 9am this morning, when Sonando arrived to cheers. After delivering a speech, the radio broadcaster joined hands with an activist monk and Boueng Kak land rights protester Yorm Bopha to lead a march around Wat Phnom and then to the Ministry of Information.
As the group – which quickly swelled in size – approached the Sunway Hotel, they encountered dozens of police and Daun Penh security guards blocking the road. The protesters surged to the next street and began running towards the Ministry of Information past City Hall, where hundreds of gendarmes were waiting.
Protesters then grouped outside the ministry, with many holding signs calling for the licences and sitting on the road. As gendarmes were ordered onto the road, about 100 metres away from them, a tense standoff ensued until finally a five-minute warning was given.
Sok Penh Vuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, was heard shouting through a loudspeaker that the demonstration was illegal and Sonando would be arrested before the charge.
City Hall had previously stated in a letter to Sonando: “If there is a gathering which affects security, safety and public order and there are any clashes, you will be responsible before the law.”