Police officers, some of them armed with batons and shields, clashed with Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Mu Sochua and villagers yesterday as authorities cracked down on a public election forum at a private home in Battambang town.
Sochua said she and others were left with scratches on their arms after about 50 officers blocked villagers from accessing the forum, organised by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media’s Voice of Democracy program.
“Police were blocking them from coming,” she said. “They were threatening them, saying the event was not legal.
“More police came with shields and batons.… Police started pushing me away from villagers.”
The authorities, Sochua said, had “no grounds whatsoever” to say the conference – designed to answer villagers’ questions about the election – was illegal.
“It’s a huge violation of the rights of the people,” she continued. “It’s not democratic, it’s not helpful to the government and we condemn this type of behaviour.”
The incident took place in an area the opposition won in last month’s national election, Sochua said.
CNRP member Mounh Sarath said police had struck supporters with batons after blocking their path into the conference.
“We tried to negotiate, and eventually there was conflict between the people and the authorities, and police have hit them with sticks,” he said.
A video posted on Facebook shows a young woman screaming at a wall of riot police. After she penetrates their blockade – calling them “tyrants” – officers use their shields to force her back.
Sin Chan Pov Rozeth, 27,an SRP commune councillor, said police had closed off five streets in the area, while two people said they received minor injuries in the clashes.
Thuch Ra, Battambang town police chief, defended his officers’ conduct, saying they had simply tried to control “trouble makers”.
“They did not ask permission from the provincial level,” he said. “They asked for it from the commune – which said it did not have the capacity to allow it. So our force told people it was illegal and did not allow them to take part.”
But Chan Somaly, a CCIM communications officer, said the forum had been the same as ones her organisation had staged elsewhere before and since the election.
“This [response from police] is threatening people’s freedom of expression,” she said, adding CCIM had told authorities of the forum in advance.
Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said there was nothing illegal about planning such an event.
“There’s no law saying legal permission must be requested and granted for an event like this,” he said. “This event was organised by an NGO, not a political party.… The Ministry of Interior says [they] must only inform the local authority five days before.”
Somaly, from CCIM, added that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the National Election Committee had also been invited to the forum but declined to attend.