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Showdown over release of political prisoners

Showdown over release of political prisoners

A shouts at riot police during a protest at Freedom Park Nov. 8, 2012 in Phnom Penh. The protesters carried photographs of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

A 200-strong combined police force faced off with about 100 members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party’s youth movement at Freedom Park yesterday, bellowing accusations through megaphones at one another as authorities sought to stop the demonstrators from marching to the Royal Palace.

As the demonstrators yelled demands that they be allowed to take their cries for the release of political prisoners to the gates of the palace at security forces that refused to budge, both sides derided one another’s actions as an affront to the memory of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

“In the name of Cambodian citizens, I would like to insist the [present] King [Norodom Sihamoni] offer a royal pardon for the political prisoners and land activists,” said Soung Sophorn, executive director of SRP’s youth movement.

He accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of “showing no respect” to the late King Father by blocking their path.

A megaphone mounted to the roof of a vehicle blurted back that the demonstration was illegal, as an orator inside read from a letter drafted by Phnom Penh Municipal Hall.

“The activities of SRP’s youth movement is considered to be political exploitation and serves the interests of the opposition party and even shows no respect to the body of the former king,” piped the megaphone.

Only three representatives of the group could present their petition, the voice continued.

Sok Peahvuth, Daun Penh deputy district governor, said the SRP youth had violated the terms of an accord that allowed them to protest only at Freedom Park. “I will take administrative measures if Soung Sophorn doesn’t stop doing this action,” he said.

Among those caught in the crush were members of the Association of Democrats, who had come out in support of their movement’s jailed president, Mam Sonando.

Better known for his radio station Beehive, which invited listeners to air their grievances with the government, Sonando was given 20 years in October for his role in a so-called “secessionist” movement on charges widely decried by rights groups as trumped up.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]