Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tax protest turns violent



Tax protest turns violent

Mao Son is arrested by authorities
Mao Son is arrested by authorities yesterday in Poipet during a violent protest outside the provincial Department of Customs and Excise. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Tax protest turns violent

A protest over import taxes in Poipet town yesterday descended into brick-hurling and beatings, with the local governor ultimately pointing the finger at an opposition official and a local union boss for inciting the riot.

The demonstrators, one of whom was left hospitalised following the protest, only dispersed after military police fired several warning shots in the air.

Han Tren, 26, one of those involved in the protest, said that demonstrators fled after the shots were fired, but at least four were injured over the course of the day.

Tren identified the most seriously injured as Mao Son, also known as Sros, 35, who had been badly beaten by military police. Police had handcuffed Son and were attempting to transfer him to a vehicle when protesters rushed the officers, seized Son back and attempted to send him to hospital.

“The military police officer punched Mao Son in the face many times, kneed and handcuffed him, and was going to drag him to their car for detention, but we rushed to fight them and liberated him,” Tren said. “However, during the fight, he was beaten unconscious.”

Protesters were ultimately successful in bringing him to hospital, he added.

Ran Sreymom, 27, Son’s wife, said her husband had regained consciousness in hospital, but he was still confined to his bed.

“Right now, I need some people to help my husband, because he has a serious problem, and cannot get up. I’m afraid he will die of his wounds,” she said.

After sending Son to hospital, Tren said, protesters were met by customs official Sem Sam Ath and acting Customs Department director Nuon Sovuthy, who told them that the office couldn’t drop the tax on imported goods, which is set at the national level, and had allegedly accused porters coming across the city’s busy checkpoint of obscuring the identity of the goods’ real owners to avoid taxes on larger shipments.

He also reportedly asked protesters to cooperate, and assured them that it was the goods’ owners who were liable for the taxes, not the porters hired to bring them across. However, the protesters were unhappy with the officials’ explanation and demanded to meet permanent customs chief Chhuon Hai, who was on a trip to Phnom Penh.

Protesters then continued to demonstrate, ultimately setting tyres alight, knocking down the customs office gate and smashing the building’s glass facade and the windows of parked cars with bricks until they dispersed, according to a police officer.

Authorities hose off the remains of a small fire that was started by protesters
Authorities hose off the remains of a small fire that was started by protesters yesterday after a protest turned violent in the town of Poipet. PHOTO SUPPLIED


Poipet police chief Um Sophal said that authorities had decided to open fire after protesters began pelting them with bricks, one of which struck a customs office security guard he identified as Em in the head.

“We needed to open fire in order to keep the peace and safety, and to restore public order,” he said. “They used violence to break down the gates of the Customs and Excise office, and damaged some cars and the building.”

Customs head Chhuon Hai said the porters had been “tricked” into demonstrating by the businessmen who import goods across the border, and called on the porters to simply tell customs officials the names of the owners of the goods so that the owners could be made to pay the appropriate tax.

“Those protesters, they do not understand the taxation law,” he said. “They demanded our officials not charge taxes on [shipments of] less than 60 cases. Over 60 cases, they asked that officials drop the price. [These rules] are not described in the taxation law, and we do not respond to that request.”

Tren, the demonstrator, said that the porters had actually demanded that shipments of less than 30 cases be made tax-free.

“We call for the authorities, police and the court to find the businessmen who were behind the protesters to arrest and sentence them,” Hai added.

However, Poipet Governor Ngor Meng Chroun, in a letter sent to the Banteay Meanchey provincial governor, said that he suspected CNRP deputy Poipet commune chief Chao Veasna and local IDEA union head Din Puthy of being behind the protest.

Veasna could not be reached for comment, but Sao Chandeth, an opposition senator for Banteay Meanchey, denied the claims, saying that as a local authority, Veasna would have been at the protest to simply observe.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Preah Sihanouk hit with travel ban

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration has announced a temporary travel ban to and from the province, except for ambulances and trucks transporting goods. The announcement came after prime minister Hun Sen called on people in the province to travel only if necessary, and that people not

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • AstraZeneca jabs touch down in Phnom Penh airport

    The first shipment of 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/SII vaccine which was provided through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility was delivered to Phnom Penh International Airport on March 2. The rest of the COVAX provided vaccines will arrive in Cambodia at a later date.

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said