INTERMITTENT clashes and a brief episode of stone-throwing left several injured today after riot police and Daun Penh district security locked down the Naga Bridge and Freedom Park in anticipation of a planned Cambodia National Rescue Party rally.
Though flag-waving, speech-making opposition supporters made a few passes on motorbikes and tuk-tuks up Norodom and past the blocked-off Freedom Park, Daun Penh’s untrained, and anonymous, security guards at times seemed more concerned with attacking anyone caught taking photos of them.
Shortly after 3:30pm, trucks fitted with folding metal barricades were deployed to block traffic on the Naga Bridge and security guards began chasing journalists, observers and a man wearing a CNRP shirt whose presence had previously been tolerated.
Several observers were beaten, including unaffiliated activist Ouk Pich Samnang, who was bleeding profusely from the head. At least two reporters, one of them female, and an American photographer, were attacked by guards.
Voice of Democracy reporter Lay Samean was badly beaten in the head for taking photos.
“I don’t know why the security guards beat me like that, because I am a reporter. I am a journalist; I just took a photo of their activities when they were beating a monk,” Samean said. “When they saw me take a photo of their activity, they rushed to beat me like a robber, and I lost my smartphone as well.”
Activist monk Loun Sovath, one of at least two monks attacked by guards, said that he too had been singled out for taking photos.
“When I walked and took a photo, the group of security guards used their batons to point at me, and other security guards rushed to beat me,” said Sovath, who was struck on the neck and hand, and whose smartphone was smashed. “Suddenly, my student used a camera to take their activity… and the group of security guards separated some people out, and they rushed to beat my student as well.”
Seemingly incensed at the sight of monks being attacked, a crowd of bystanders that had gathered began throwing stones at district security guards, who responded in kind, though tensions eased after a few moments.
Yesterday’s violence, somewhat ironically, occurred a stone’s throw away from a large banner strung across Norodom Boulevard that read: “Say NO to Violent Demonstration,” which had been put up for International Labour Day on Thursday, when similar clashes occurred.
The CNRP had earlier planned to hold a rally at or near Freedom Park to kick off its campaign for the upcoming district and provincial council elections, a poll in which only elected commune councillors can vote.
Party spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday called the lockdown of Freedom Park and the surrounding areas “illegal,” and said that the opposition had decided to hold a march around the city instead of the Freedom Park rally.
“This is an election campaign, so what we have done is follow the law. We have the right to campaign, and this is not a demonstration,” he said. “The government banning our campaign is illegal; it’s against the election law, so we defy the ban.”
As night fell, CNRP supporters gathered in front of the Royal Palace to listen to a speech by party president Sam Rainsy. A large number of security forces were concentrated near the scene, though ultimately the crowd began to dissipate without an eruption of violence.
Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche yesterday did not respond to requests for comment on authorities’ apparent targeting of journalists. REPORTING CONTRIBUTED BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA, STUART WHITE AND JOE FREEMAN