Two Daun Penh security guards prevented a youth activist with the Khmer Thavrak group from setting up a small public library in Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum park.
Chhem Sreykea, who is a university student and has worked with the activist group since 2022, posted a live video to Facebook on Sunday evening showing two men from the Daun Penh district security guards asking her to remove the books on display at the park.
The makeshift library is a small green tarp, barely one square meter in area, with dozens of books laid out for anyone to read or borrow.
The two men can be seen standing next to Sreykea, a few monks who frequented the library and other bystanders as they pack away the books. Sreykea said on Tuesday she suspected they blocked her because she was part of Khmer Thavrak, which has advocated for environmental protection, debtors’ rights, civic affairs and other social issues.
“This public garden belongs to the general public including me and I asked them to not discriminate against me as a Khmer Thavrak member,” she said.
Sreykea said she used to set up a similar reading station in her home province of Pailin and wanted to replicate the effort in Phnom Penh. She provided novels and inspirational books and hoped to attract young readers using the park.
“I see the youth who come here to hang out, drink beer or kiss. But, when I place a public library like this, it can attract their hearts … at least they can see or touch a book that is a source of knowledge,” she said.
She had set up the small reading spot last September and was previously stopped by local guards in November but was not hassled after she moved to another part of the park.
The small library had been successful in attracting readers, Sreykea said, and she wanted to get approval from local authorities to continue the initiative.
“I will continue even though there is prevention,” she said.
Kim Vutha, the notorious head of the Daun Penh district security guards, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Chea Khema, the Daun Penh district governor, said he was unaware of the case and no official or security guard had informed him about the incident.
He said it was prohibited to place items on sidewalks or walkways because it blocked pedestrians, and that the library should be set up where there are less people.
“They should find a proper place that has no pedestrians … and when they put it in the garden, it will impact tourists” and people who go there to exercise, he said.
Sreykea was detained with other Khmer Thavrak activists and journalists for attempting to monitor the rapid deforestation of Phnom Tamao last year, which was later called off by Prime Minister Hun Sen.