Phnom Penh authorities yesterday continued to make short work of protests that might cast a less-than-flattering light on the city during the ongoing ASEAN summit.
In the morning, authorities quickly stamped out a motorcycle convoy planned by the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) Youth Movement as its members gathered at SRP headquarters, detaining those who did not possess a valid driver’s licence and impounding their vehicles.
SRP Youth Movement president Soung Sophorn said the group had barely made it 300 metres from party headquarters before being blocked.
“Our will is to ask US President Barack Obama to call for the government to release political prisoners and other land activists, for a free and fair national election in 2013 as well as the national unification in parallel with the wisdom of King Father Norodom Sihanouk,” Sophorn said, adding that the group had intended to stage a peaceful protest outside the US embassy to draw attention to their plight.
Boeung Kak and Borei Keila villagers similarly attempted a second day of protests, gathering a crowd to march to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Peace Palace, but were also thwarted by a large contingent of mixed police forces that barricaded the former lakeside area off, also blocking access to media and NGO workers’ vehicles.
About 100 police armed with riot batons and shields fenced in the protesters, who later retreated to the sandy plateau that was once their lakeside neighbourhood.
Both face-offs petered out peacefully, but the large allocation of security forces assembled to disband peaceful public assemblies was a dire indictment of freedom of expression in Cambodia, Am Sam Ath, senior investigating officer of the rights group Licadho, said.
“As host of the ASEAN Summit, it is a great opportunity for us to reveal the political will of respect for human rights to the globe, because Cambodia is one of the democratic countries where the freedom of expression mustn’t be narrowed down.”
Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chouh Sovan could not be reached yesterday.