Youth Activist Group Plans 8-Day Protest After Two Members Jailed

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Khmer Thavrak activist Hun Vannak clashes with Prampi Makara district authorities during a rally in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 13, 2020. (Khan Leakhena/VOD)

The youth activist group that has been driving this month’s protests in support of unionist Rong Chhun will again attempt to hold a demonstration against the arrests of government critics — including two of its members now in jail — early next month.

Tha Lavy, a member of Khmer Thavrak, told VOD on Sunday that the activist group had filed a petition to Phnom Penh City Hall on Friday to protest at Freedom Park against the detention of Chhun, two of its activists and two others.

If allowed, Lavy said the group would demonstrate at the park on National Road 5 from September 7 through 15 for the release of Chhun, group members Chhoeun Daravy and Hun Vannak, activist Sar Kanika and Khmer Win Party leader Suong Sophorn — the latter four detained and charged for incitement after expressing support for the unionist.

“What we want is [for the court] to drop charges and free teacher Rong Chhun and the other four people, as they didn’t do anything wrong as they were charged,” said Lavy, who was also detained after a rally on August 13 but later released. Six youth protesters, including Daravy and Vannak, were arrested on August 13 after holding regular protests near the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for nearly two weeks after Chhun’s arrest.

City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said on Monday that the municipality had received the group’s request and would meet with representatives that evening to discuss Khmer Thavrak’s plans.

However, on Sunday he said that higher leaders would need to review the request, adding that activists must respect the laws surrounding peaceful protests, warning that they would be responsible for any issues that arise from any allowed demonstration.  

“People can express their opinions … but it needs to be consistent with the law,” Measpheakdey said.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for human rights group Adhoc, said that groups that want to hold a demonstration should only have to announce their intention to protest, and as a signatory to the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government should be scrutinized if City Hall were to block a protest.

“If a protest to express opinions by peaceful means are not allowed, the international community will be monitoring, and the donor countries, especially the Western [countries], can take various measures against Cambodia,” Senkaruna said. “It will impact the Cambodian government and will also affect democracy.”

Mean Prum Mony, a human rights activist, said he would participate in the protest if allowed, saying that it was unjust to charge people with incitement for discussing Cambodia’s border with Vietnam — which has long been a controversial topic and a flash point for opposition supporters.

“We can’t stand to watch them arrest people that didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “The arrests are injustices, and one by one, it’s like the Pol Pot era, in that when we are silent it allows the regime to become more authoritarian. When we can express our opinions, gather together and protest by peaceful means, it is consistent with national and international law.”

Chhun, a unionist and member of the border issues group Cambodia Watchdog Council, was arrested on the evening of July 31, not long after he visited Tbong Khmum province and made several comments alleging Cambodian border residents had lost land to Vietnam. His arrest and charges launched several small protests and the arrests through the first half of this month.

Naly Pilorge, a spokesperson for the human rights group Licadho, told VOD that lawyers had filed a bail request for Daravy and Vannak on August 24 but they have not yet heard a response.

Additional reporting by Danielle Keeton-Olsen

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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