As protests against land grabbing have increased in Phnom Penh in the past five years, so too have violent crackdowns by the authorities.
Police have been criticised for their treatment of protesters – which has included beatings with electric batons and kicks to the stomach of pregnant women.
But in recent years, activists and NGOs say, private security guards employed by the Daun Penh district have increasingly been the ones inflicting violence on the predominantly female groups of activists.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said that in the past three years it had become common for security guards to beat protesters in the presence of – and sometimes with the help of – police.
“In 2009 and 2010, it was the police that used violence,” he said. “When more Boeung Kak and Borei Keila activists protested, police stopped using as much violence.
“They stopped following orders to beat the women. So now the authorities use the Daun Penh district security guards to use violence.”
When the latest incident occurred on Wednesday – less than a week after the government was praised for its treatment of opposition protesters – a Post reporter observed police watching as security guards took batons to protesters.
Separately, in June, when NagaWorld employees went on strike outside the casino, unidentified security guards detained a number of workers and loaded them into a police van, again, in the presence of police.
Borei Keila resident Sar Sorn said she had noticed growing numbers of security guards at land-eviction protests since the lead-up to the election.
“I think the government knows it looks worse if police attack us, so they let security guards beat us when we protest. And the police watch. But they are security guards – they must protect us, not beat us.”
Officials declined to comment when asked why security guards were allowed to take a violent approach to protesters.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, referred all questions to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, who could not be reached.
Kirth Chantharith, national police spokesman and Phnom Penh police chief Choun Sovann also could not be reached.