Activists from the embattled Boeung Kak community said yesterday they would begin indefinite protests if the government fails to free three rights activists and at least 20 garment workers arrested during clashes early this month.
Though the government has put a ban on all forms of public assembly, activist Tep Vanny said at a press conference yesterday that the community would soon launch a lengthy campaign of protests – with support from the Independent Monks for
Social Justice, a farmer’s group and more than 30 poor communities in Phnom Penh.
“We will keep protesting until the final minute if the government authorities do not stop using violence and free Chan Puthisak, Vorn Pov, Theng Savoeun and some garment factory workers unconditionally.”
Last week, Vanny and four other Boeung Kak activists were arrested and detained for eight hours after attempting to deliver a petition to the French Embassy. The group was warned that such actions violated a ban imposed a day after authorities opened fire on protesting garment workers, killing at least four and wounding more than 20.
Puthisak, who represents 48 families from the Boeung Kak community, Pov, head of the Independent Democratic Economy Association, and Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, were arrested on January 2 after the elite 911 paratrooper brigade was sent in to break up garment worker demonstrations. An additional 20 workers were arrested on the 2nd and 3rd and their whereabouts remained undisclosed for nearly a week.
Long Dimanche, spokesman for City Hall, said people had a right to talk about what they wanted, but could not do anything against the law including “making demonstrations by blocking the road or gathering in front of government buildings without permission by the authorities”.
Speaking on the sidelines of yesterday’s conference, the wives of the three men – all of whom have been charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and intentional damage with
aggravating circumstances – said they were concerned for the health of their spouses and urged their release.
“Police and military police are deployed in front of the prison,” said Savoeun’s wife Nhong Sokheang, who has visited three times since authorities on Wednesday notified families they had been taken to Correctional Centre 3 in Kampong Cham. “Except for me and and my relatives, people are not allowed to enter and visit. The prison is cramped and lacks medicine and food. My husband is detained in a 20 metre-square room with 90 other prisoners,” she said.