At Least 10 people were injured yesterday when about 30 district security guards attacked a peaceful crowd of journalists, NGO workers and supporters of opposition lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua after she ran into the middle of Freedom Park on her sixth attempt to draw attention to the government’s blockade of the designated protest space.
According to Am Sam Ath, chief monitor at rights group Licadho, three journalists and seven Cambodia National Rescue Party youth supporters were injured when baton-wielding Daun Penh district security guards, who have become infamous for their violent behaviour at protests, were ordered to attack the crowd at about 8:30am.
Three youths were left with head injuries, while the other four where badly kicked, kneed, stomped on and beaten, Sam Ath said.
The three journalists, two of them foreigners, were not seriously injured.
Lim Kim-Ya, a CNRP lawmaker-elect from Kampong Thom province, said he was slapped across the face when he tried to stop the guards from beating a female youth activist.
“The actions of the Daun Penh district authorities and the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall violates national and international human rights laws which the Cambodian government is a signatory to,” Sam Ath of Licadho said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche denied the characterisation of the violence as a crackdown on freedom of assembly.
“This was not a crackdown, it was law enforcement,” he said.
“Mu Sochua, other parliamentarians from the CNRP and their activists are trying to provoke [the authorities] to react and are inciting people to create violence.
Then she takes all the problems that result [from her incitement] to use for political gain.”
According to Sochua, who began her crusade to “bring freedom back to Freedom Park” at the beginning of this month, the violence broke out after she was forcibly removed from the park by her hands and legs.
As a crowd gathered around her, district authorities gave the orders to attack, she said.
“They started going after people with iPhones, with cameras, foreigners or [locals], they went after [everyone]. It was clear that they wanted to prevent reporting and get rid of evidence.
I think that . . . starting today they are not going to be soft [anymore].”
Pen Sunsavoan, Sochua’s assistant, said he required 10 stitches to the head after being attacked by guards.
“I will file a lawsuit against [Daun Penh Deputy District Governor] Sok Penh Vuth, who directly ordered those security forces to beat us and the other reporters,” he said.
A video of Penh Vuth bashing a man over the head with a bullhorn during a protest in January went viral and led to calls for his ouster. Vuth could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIA