Six people sporting fake prison uniforms attempted to stage a protest at the National Assembly to express their opposition to the highly criticised NGO law, only to be arrested by a contingent of security personnel and detained for over nine hours before being released yesterday evening.
The group included Meas Leakhena, from the CNRP Women’s Movement, and five members of the Khmer Youth Empire and the Cambodian Student Intellectual League Association: Chum Huor, Chum Huort, Muong Sony, Suong Vesna and Soeun Piseth.
The protesters dressed in blue prison pajamas, lined with a white stripe, and bound their ankles together with metal chains.
They carried protest banners and a cage of sparrows, which they intended to released as a symbol of freedom, and to chant, “Say No to the Law on Associations and NGOs”.
However, before they could begin, traffic police and armed security forces arrived and asked them to halt the protest, then corralled them into a police van – their legs still shackled together – and sent them to Chamkarmom district police station, protesters said.
As they were arrested, Leakhena, screamed: “This is injustice! We are just Cambodians who only seek justice.”
The director of Khmer Youth Empire, Heng Somnang, said the protest was intended to express dissatisfaction with the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), which passed the Senate on Saturday, because it restricts NGOs’ freedom to operate.
“We just want to send a message,” he said. “It is not a demonstration or causing turmoil, but they just want to show that they are not happy.”
Following the arrests, a group of 20 youths and activists from the Boeung Kak community demanded their release and protested the NGO law in their stead, but this only incited further insults and shoving matches between protesters and authorities.
When asked about the reason for the arrest, Phnom Penh municipal deputy chief of police Ouch Sokhun said the youths were arrested for simply acting “illegally”.
Prom Sam Khan, governor of Chamkarmon district, said the youths were detained for re-education on the inappropriateness of their costume.
“It [challenges] the social order, because they are not prisoners,” he said. “If they want to protest, they should hold a forum.”
After he was released, activist Chum Hour said he was questioned for hours by authorities and a deputy prosecutor for Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“Despite the arrest, I’m not afraid and will continue protesting against the passage of this law,” he said.
The technical manager of Licadho, Am Sam Ath, said the arrest of the youths was a restriction of freedom, as there is nothing illegal about wearing prison garb.
“A democratic country has to let people express their ideas. If they are restricted or banned, it is a violation on their intellectual expression.”