Close to 2,000 people, including monks, NGO workers and citizens, marched peacefully to the Ministry of Justice yesterday morning, defying City Hall’s ban on the Human Rights Day protest.
Demonstrators from 16 different provinces marched from three separate locations – the Senate, Chenla Cinema and Wat Phnom High School – converging near the Ministry of Justice, where police set up barricades.
The march proceeded without major confrontations or violence. Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed there were no arrests.
“We knew that the group of people behind these demonstrators wanted to see confrontations happen,” said Dimanche. “So we tried our best to coordinate and avoid this trick.”
Across town, another 1,000 people joined 68 civil society groups in holding a rally at Freedom Park.
The main protester group brought a petition containing a broad array of demands.
Among the issues for which they are demanding a government solution are the nation’s ongoing backlog of land disputes, reforms to the judiciary, the release of imprisoned environmental and human rights activists, a raise in the minimum wage, an end to violence by state authorities, and a greater respect of freedom of expression.
Tep Vanny, the longtime face of the Boeung Kak lake community land activists, said that the government favours companies and corrupt officials over its forcibly evicted citizens.
“Developers grab land from the people without considering their future and rights,” he said.
Chan Panh, a member of the Independent Monk Network for Justice, said that authorities colluded with loggers to denude Cambodia’s forests.
“The four forest activists in Areng Valley have to be released immediately,” he said.
Other protesters carried signs saying that a newly established minimum wage of $140 per month for garment industry workers is not enough.
During the demonstration, Lay Nisay, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, emerged from the building and accepted the protesters’ petition, promising to forward it to the minister.
Elsewhere, police prevented protesters from marching on the National Assembly, an act Boeung Kak community land activist Chan Puthisak said was an attempt to disrupt protesters’ ability to exercise free speech.
“We worry that Cambodia might be deprived of justice and freedom,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong dismissed the claim, saying that authorities were simply protecting public order.