The organiser of a protest by community members who face eviction from their homes to make way for a railway project in Banteay Meanchey province was detained yesterday after demonstrators burned an effigy and dragged its decapitated body through the streets.
About 50 protesters marched through the border town of Poipet dragging the dummy, which was painted in fake blood with the words “corrupt officials abuse citizens and create injustice”, said Vorn Vann, 36, one of the demonstrators.
After the march concluded, protest organiser Chheng Bun Hak was arrested by provincial police, Vorn added.
“It’s unjust. We are trying to seek justice and solutions and instead the police arrest us,” he said. “If the problem is resolved we will stop protesting.”
Families living along the railway lines in Banteay Meanchey have been told they must make way for road construction in preparation for the tracks to be laid.
The line will connect Poipet, an important trade route with neighbouring Thailand, to Phnom Penh.
Ath Khem, the provincial police chief, said the demonstrators had protested 12 times in recent months without permission from the authorities.
“It [the protests] affected our social norms many times, so we needed to take action by detaining him [Bun Hak] for questioning,” Khem said.
Soum Chankea, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the detention was an attack on freedom of expression.
“The arrest shows that the government lacks the capacity to resolve the problem for the people,” he said.
“Dragging a fake body through the streets does not threaten government officials.
“It’s a reminder of the oaths they have taken in front of the King to fulfil their public duties.”