The head of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) said the civil society-backed “Black Monday” campaign needs to be quelled given that it had the potential to flare up like the violent Veng Sreng Boulevard minimum wage protests in 2014.
The campaign has so far involved small, nonviolent gatherings calling for the release of rights workers jailed in a case widely criticised as politically motivated, with participants wearing black to “mourn the death of human rights in Cambodia”. Several of the gatherings have been forcibly disrupted by police, resulting in the brief detention of several attendees.
Keo Remy, who was appointed as the CHRC’s president in early May, told reporters after a lecture at the Royal University of Law and Economics that while the campaign seemed small now, there was potential for it to get bigger if the authorities didn’t “keep it quiet”.
“We have experienced the Veng Sreng Boulevard incident and the Naga Bridge beatings,” he said. “Therefore, we need to keep it quiet in order to avoid similar turmoil again.”
In January of 2014, with mass garment-wage protests coming to a head at Veng Sreng Boulevard, state security forces opened fire on a rioting crowd, killing five. About six months later, an opposition rally near the Naga Bridge turned violent, and several Daun Penh district security guards were viciously beaten. The beatings followed months of brutal crackdowns by the guards on nonviolent opposition gatherings.
Remy yesterday went on to take a veiled jab at the opposition – whose acting president Kem Sokha is currently holed up to avoid arrest on charges stemming from an alleged affair – saying it was the government’s role to enforce the law if there was any wrongdoing.
“There are politicians who committed wrong and there are no political prisoners,” he added.
The rights group Licadho, however, says there are currently 29 political prisoners in Cambodia.
Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, said the “Black Monday” campaign did not bear any resemblance to the violent examples cited by Remy.
“They [protesters] want to express their views and find justice in peaceful way.”