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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM looks to US to justify use of force

A factory worker shot by police is carried away during a protest on Veng Sreng Boulevard earlier this year
A factory worker shot by police is carried away during a protest on Veng Sreng Boulevard earlier this year after a government crackdown. Hun Sen has condemned police violence in Ferguson, Missouri. Heng Chivoan

PM looks to US to justify use of force

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday compared Cambodia’s deadly government crackdowns favourably with attempts in the United States to quell days of unrest following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education, Hun Sen said the crackdown on demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri – where police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9 – has not been met with the same criticism levelled at his forces when they move in to contain protests.

In Ferguson, “demonstrators just throw bottles of water [on the authorities] and they are arrested immediately, but America says nothing”, he said. Whereas “in our country, [demonstrators] burned cars, threw stones and shot with slingshots when we tried to control the situation, and they said that we abused human rights”.

Multiple clashes between demonstrators in Ferguson and police from local and state law enforcement occurred in the aftermath of the shooting earlier this month. Responding to the protests and instances of live gunfire, looting and rioting, a curfew was put in place, and the governor called in the National Guard. Dozens of people, including journalists, have been arrested since the shooting.

Contrary to the premier’s claim of imbalance, the heavy-handed actions have drawn international rebuke and comparisons with abuses committed during the civil rights movement in the US.

Hun Sen yesterday went on to compare the eight-month lockdown of Freedom Park, Phnom Penh’s designated protest space, with the curfew imposed on Ferguson after the governor declared a state of emergency.

The premier reasoned that Freedom Park is just a small area that was closed temporarily because of unrest, while in Ferguson an entire town was put into lockdown between midnight and 5am.

While government investigations into the fatal violence of early January – when government forces opened fire at striking garment workers, killing at least five – and other clashes had been cited repeatedly as the reason for the park’s closure, results of any probe have remained elusive since the razor wire came down.

Meach Sovannara, a Cambodia National Rescue Party member and Cambodian-American citizen, told the Post that Hun Sen was lying to the country and making unfair comparisons.

“He told [his] citizens a lie. Speaking of the law, in America, people are given rights to hold demonstrations.” Sovannara said.

Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he agreed that the US government is “no angel”, but said this does not justify the actions of Hun Sen’s forces.

“The US needs to clean up its act too, [but] that doesn’t mean that the crackdowns here were OK,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY

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