Hundreds of people gathered yesterday morning in front of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison to demand the release of 17 incarcerated activists, monks and opposition members.
The detainees include 10 land activists, three monks and four members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Fifteen of them were arrested, charged or convicted last week amid a wave of action that observers and rights groups have dubbed a deliberate attempt to apply pressure on dissenters.
Yorm Bopha, a prominent member of the Boeung Kak community, said the arrests prove that “people’s right to live with dignity and freedom of assembly in the Kingdom is being removed by the government”.
Seven fellow Boeung Kak activists were sentenced Tuesday to one year in prison for using a wooden bed to block a road during a protest. The next day, four more people – three female activists and a monk – who were arrested outside of the court were each sentenced to one year in prison for “intentionally inciting violence against a public authority”.
During yesterday’s gathering outside of the prison’s correctional centres one and two, guards set up steel blockades about 20 metres away from the prison gates to keep the demonstrators away.
Ee Sarom, executive director of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the blockades “should be encouraged” for “the safety of inmates”. But, he added, in detaining the 17, the “municipal authorities are acting like a dictator and violating human and religious rights”.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said the CNRP was working to secure the release of the detainees.
As well as planned visits to the prison, the CNRP youth will launch a “Free the 17” campaign at Freedom Park at 9am on Wednesday, she said.
A letter from opposition leader Sam Rainsy calling for the release of detained CNRP member Meach Sovannara has also been forwarded to the court, she added.
Following yesterday’s action, Bopha vowed that the group would return “every Sunday until our members have been released”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY