Bakeo district police officers broke up a gathering of 50 Christians in Ratanakkiri province on Wednesday because they had not sought permission from authorities to meet.
The ethic Jarai Christians hold regular and rotating monthly meetings in O’Yadav, Andong Meas and Bakeo districts to pray, discuss their faith and eat, and said they never had to ask for permission before.
But two police officials intervened and disbanded their latest meeting in Touch village, according to attendees and rights group Adhoc.
“They said this month that the government banned the gathering,” said preacher Sal Plon, 42. “It is a deprivation of our religious rights. They are biased and discriminating against Christianity.”
He said the government usually supports Buddhism, with its adherents free to meet weekly without problems.
One member of the Christian group who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said he was disappointed and concerned.
“We do not gather about politics. We do not do anything that affects the government,” he said.
Bakeo district governor Heng Bunny said the police took correct measures to maintain security, especially as people from other districts were gathering.
“What if they lay the bomb and the bomb explodes and kills people? It was right for the police to ban it; do not blame them,” Bunny said.
Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for Adhoc, suggested recent political tension – in the wake of Black Monday protests – was motivating the local authorities to broadly restrict the freedom to gather. Now, he said, authorities are increasingly requiring permission in advance.