Black Monday protests yesterday took on a different tone, with evening candlelight vigils that saw some scuffles between protesters and police but ultimately no arrests.
The previous two demonstrations led to the arrest and brief detention of multiple protesters clad in black, who were demanding the release of four human rights workers and a National Election Committee official.
The five were jailed for the alleged bribery of witness Khom Chandaraty in a court case related to a sex scandal revolving around opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy leader Kem Sokha.
After repeated crackdowns in Phnom Penh and the provinces – and a call from Defence Minister Tea Banh for people to seek permission before even participating in the campaign online – yesterday’s protests were restricted to localised spheres.
Boeung Kak lake land activists held a protest from 5pm to 7pm, with some 100 people wearing black and creating a display of lotus flowers, candles and banners.
Boeung Kak representative Tep Vanny said the group gathered to sing and beat drums for justice.
“We are not part of a colour revolution to overthrow the government or cause insurrection or political stability,” Vanny said, referring to recent rhetoric from officials likening the campaign to Eastern European movements that have unseated authoritarian regimes.
“The government threatened that to wear black is for a revolution, but we wear black just to send a message to the government to stop human rights violations.”
At 6pm, the appearance of a heavy police presence of roughly 100 officers saw scuffles emerge and the display destroyed, while elderly Boeung Kak activist Nget Khun was reportedly shoved and taken to hospital in a shocked state by her family.
Earlier yesterday, 20 land rights protesters from the Phnom Penh airport “SOS” community demonstrated at 9:30am, while civil society organisation officials dressed in black and took photos to upload on social media in a bid to spread the protest online.
“We want the government to know the pain of the people that see the government violating human rights and abusing NGOs that are always helping people,” SOS representative Chray Nim said.
Political observer Ou Virak said ongoing intimidation and arrests by authorities had diminished the Black Monday campaign, and added the government’s requirement for permission to protest online had no basis in the law.
“The government seems too paranoid on this . . . They rule according to the mood of the day,” he said.
“They cannot just make a snap decision on people’s rights without going through the legislative process.”
Additional reporting by Erin Handley