Following a break over Khmer New Year, opposition lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua continued her campaign to bring freedom to Freedom Park yesterday morning and was once again met with force, this time metres outside of the park.
At about 8am yesterday, the Cambodia National Rescue Party member attempted, for the fifth time, to enter the park to protest her right to “democracy, equality and freedom of expression”, but this time the park was an entire block out of her reach.
“[There were] security forces with shields and batons . . . I couldn’t even get close,” she said.
“I went with a bunch of lotus flowers to bring blessings . . . They [security forces] took the flowers and chopped the tops off of them.”
Despite the government having lifted the ban on assembly outside of Freedom Park – which had been introduced in the wake of unrest earlier this year – Sochua said she was met by multiple security forces.
Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the incident is evidence that “what is being said publicly has no resonance with what happens on the ground”.
But despite a mass security presence, which far outnumbered her supporters, Sochua said that orders to manhandle her were initially ignored.
“I sat down and orders were given to the security forces to pick me up but they didn’t follow the orders. They called for re-enforcements and ordered them to lift me up. They ignored [those orders] for a long time too.”
Sochua, who has used the campaign to address different rights issues, yesterday spoke in support of garment workers’ calls for a $160 monthly minimum wage.
Anna Burger, former secretary-treasurer of the US-based Service Employees International Union, who was supporting Sochua yesterday, said she was shocked by the security turnout. “We came [in the spirit of] freedom, with facts and flowers. They came with helmets, shields and weapons.”
But City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Sochua goaded forces into action. “[She] is provoking our authorities . . . to attract [local and international attention].”
Sochua, who said she will return to the park today, said she will not be deterred in her campaign. “They can’t break the power of one.”