Authorities and protesters clashed outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday as a group of about 20 demonstrators — at least two of whom were injured — called for the release of jailed union leader Rong Chhun.
Security guards stopped a group of protesters from approaching the court, where officers blocked the sidewalk on the other side of the street to prevent protests following a judge’s order on Saturday to detain Chhun on incitement charges in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison.
As the protesters marched away from the court along Sihanouk Boulevard, a group of about 10 uniformed security guards forcefully tried to surround them and stop their movement, a VOD reporter observed. Guards were seen pushing, dragging and kicking protesters, with some demonstrators resisting, and two individuals said they received minor injuries.
University student Chea Kunthin, 18, said she was injured on her arm and leg when she was kicked by guards, and urged the international community to respond.
“[Security guards] get salaries from the people, [so they need] to serve the people, but they instead used their authority to beat people and beat young girls,” she said. “I have just become an adult but got three or four kicks [for protesting].”
So Metta, a protester from youth group Khmer Thavrak, said she was also kicked and stomped on by guards, and was disappointed that authorities responded with such force against a peaceful protest for Chhun’s release.
“We held a peaceful [march] and we did not cause any violence, but authorities tried to push and abuse us women,” said the 31-year-old coffee seller. “They dragged, kicked, and they seriously violated our rights. I would like to condemn the authorities. I cannot accept this.”
Chhun was arrested on Friday night last week on incitement charges in relation to comments he made on the alleged loss of Cambodian territory to Vietnam, which officials have denied and called “fake news.” Since his detention, protesters have tried to gather in front of the courthouse, though both City Hall and the Justice Ministry issued statements on Monday calling unpermitted gatherings and demonstrations illegal.
Prampi Makara district governor Lim Sophea could not be reached on Wednesday while City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey declined to comment, saying he was in a meeting.
Ny Sokha, from human rights group Adhoc, said authorities were violating protesters’ constitutionally-guaranteed rights by using violence against a crowd that was peacefully voicing dissent.
“Meeting, gathering and holding a peaceful demonstration are all freedoms that are stated in the law,” he said. “If people using their rights were restricted and abused, we think that it is a kind of serious human rights violation for a democratic country like our Cambodia.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)