Five people from three activist groups were prevented from riding bicycles in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to commemorate the 10th death anniversary of prominent environmentalist Chut Wutty.
Wutty was shot dead 10 years ago while showing journalists forest destruction in the western province of Koh Kong. The activists planned to ride bicycles from Independence Monument to the ministries of justice and environment.
They were first followed by district security guards and police officers to Wat Botum park in central Phnom Penh, and then prevented from starting the bicycle ride.
The activists are Khmer Thavrak’s Chhoeun Daravy, Chhem Sreykea and Yong Sokhlai, Mother Nature’s Phuon Keoreaksmey and Eng Malai from the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association. Two other activists, Hun Vannak and Svay Samnang, were also present to broadcast the bicycle ride on social media.
“We were only talking with them about why they took our bicycles, why they prohibited us from walking, or going anywhere else, asking us to stay in one place,” said Malai.
There was some shoving by security personnel when the activists attempted to leave the area. Authorities also unsuccessfully tried to take the camera of a VOD reporter.
Security personnel told the activists they could leave only after senior officials gave them the go-ahead, Malai said, adding that they planned to go to a small shrine on the riverside to offer blessings for Wutty.
“[Their] message is that this is anarchy, and they are restricting our freedoms,” she added.
Keoreaksmey was previously part of another group of activists who were attempting to cycle from Koh Kong to Phnom Penh to raise awareness about Koh Kong Krao and urge the government to preserve the undeveloped island as a national park. The group was also stopped by police and they had to continue their journey on foot.
At Tuesday’s event, the five activists were dressed in shirts adorned with Wutty’s image and wore helmets adorned with leaves. Keoreaksmey said the authorities wanted to take their shirts too.
“There is not any law that says wearing hats with tree leaves or wearing a shirt with Chut Wutty’s photos is illegal,” she said. “They demanded something from us that we could not do for them.”
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said that people needed permission before conducting activities in public.
“Every public activity for any purpose must be approved by the authorities,” he said.