Seven women handing a petition to the U.N. human rights office for the release of their jailed activist family members say they were surrounded by 30 to 40 officers, shoved into a flower bed, and told their small gathering required prior permission.
The women were calling for the release of members of the outlawed CNRP as well as environmental and other activists being held in the country’s jails. Dozens are currently incarcerated, including as part of mass trials against the former main opposition party that have been put on hold amid a recent Covid-19 outbreak.
Prum Chantha, wife of jailed opposition activist Kak Komphear, said seven women were waiting outside while three entered the U.N. office. But security personnel arrived to disband their gathering, she said.
“We were just raising our posters and shouting for justice for us. Suddenly they came to stop us,” Chantha said. Her poster had her husband’s photo on it, she said. “Each of them tried to get our posters.”
There were around 30 to 40 officers, some in civilian clothes and some in uniforms, she added.
“And fighting us back, like pushing us into a flowerbed in front of the United Nations human rights institution.”
The officers said the women needed to apply for a permit to gather, according to Chantha.
She added that the U.N. human rights office had accepted their petition, “and thanked us for our continued support to fighting for rights.”
City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey could not be reached by phone on Friday.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at human rights group Licadho, said the women had the right to submit a petition, “even under Covid-19 circumstances.”
“If they follow the policies of the Ministry of Health to wear masks and maintain social distancing, it is OK. The authorities should not use violence or repression against them,” Sam Ath said. “This was under 15 people. It does not seem wrong.”