Cambodia: community-based defenders forcibly dispersed during a protest, media workers threatenedEvent
- Initial Date
- Oct 23, 2020
- Event Description
Mixed security forces violently broke up a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh to mark the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, with two former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials being detained on Thursday to prevent their attendance.
The protest was called by senior leadership of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party to mark the 29th anniversary of the Peace Paris Agreement and to protest against China’s potential military presence in Cambodia.
About 30 protestors gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in the capital’s Chamkarmon district, where they were met by dozens of district security guards, uniformed police, and plainclothes security personnel.
“People who protest here with the banners, please leave this area in five minutes,” said an official on a loudspeaker. “If you don’t, we will use administrative measures.”
Protestors continued their protest and called for China to respect the peace agreement and refrain from having a military presence on Cambodian soil. Security personnel then started to drag and carry protestors away from outside the embassy, with these images and videos broadcast on social media platforms.
Three women were dragged onto the back of a flatbed truck used by district guards and another woman was carried away.
The Chinese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Former CNRP members were also marking the peace agreement anniversary in different cities across the world, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning Cambodians not to protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh.
The protestors were reacting to an increasing number of reports suggesting that Cambodia had allegedly signed a secret deal with China to allow a military presence at two likely locations: Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province and the Dara Sakor Resort in Koh Kong province.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said the government’s actions had effectively forbidden people from assembling and expressing their views.
“It has become involved with politics now. It affects the freedom of assembly and peaceful protests,” he said.
On Thursday, two former CNRP members were detained and prevented from participating in the protest outside the Chinese Embassy. Vann Sophat was detained by Tbong Khmum police officials at noon, without a warrant, and questioned till 5 p.m., he said. He was released only after signing an agreement promising to not partake in the protest.
“I just wanted to protest, and not start a coup to topple anyone,” he said. “We want people to understand about the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23.”
Vann Sophat was one of seven former opposition officials who was convicted by Tbong Khmum court last month and given a five-year suspended sentence. They were charged with “plotting” to overthrow the government and the case was linked to Sam Rainsy’s unsuccessful return to Cambodia in November 2019.
His former CNRP colleague, Sou Yean, was also detained by Tbong Khmum police on Thursday and remains in detention, according to his family.
Hong Kim Hoeun, Memot district police chief, said he was on a two-day mission to Preah Sihanouk province and refused to comment on the detention.
Pen Rath, Tbong Khmum provincial police head, and court spokespersons could not be reached for comment on Friday.
In a joint statement, journalists’ association CamboJA and the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, VOD’s parent organization, said at least six journalists had been “intimidated and threatened” at the rally.
They were told to give up their phones, stop shooting live video or had their camera taken away, the statement said.
Journalist Gerry Flynn said he was covering the protest for Thmey Thmey on Friday, and was being pushed back from observing the protesters when a walkie-talkie hit him in the face.
He turned around and an officer yelled at him, he said. A U.N. observer at the scene intervened, and told him that the guard had shouted, “Better watch out because you’re in the land of Cambodians,” Flynn said.
A freelance cameraman he was with also had his lens grabbed, and authorities tried to get into the cameraman’s bag, Flynn added.
Khan Leakhena, a VOD reporter, said she saw a protester fall on the sidewalk, and pulled out her phone to take pictures. A man in civilian clothes approached her, shouting and ordering her to stop shooting, and tried to grab the phone from her, Leakhena said.
Mech Dara, another VOD reporter, said he and several other reporters were repeatedly ordered to stop filming, including a journalist working for Reuters.
An Asia spokesperson for Reuters declined to comment. The Khmer Times has not responded to emailed questions. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also did not respond to questions.
Chanyada, the deputy governor, on Saturday denied knowledge of the incidents and referred questions to the City Hall spokesperson.
City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said he did not know the details of what happened on Friday and did not answer questions about the deputy governor being personally involved in the harassment.
“Generally, I can say that journalists have the right and ability to take pictures if it doesn’t affect or block authorities from implementing their duties,” Measpheakdey said.
CCIM’s media director, Ith Sothoeuth, said the work of journalists was supposed to be guaranteed under law. “These threats will further pressure and restrict the freedom of journalists in Cambodia.”
Nop Vy, CamboJA’s executive director, said the authorities’ actions were “unacceptable.”
“This is a sign of unacceptable intimidation as journalists were fulfilling their professional work,” said Vy, who was CCIM’s previous media director. “Authorities likely consider journalists to be an important observer who make it difficult for them to crack down on protesters.”
According to the Criminal Code, extortion — the act or attempt to obtain any asset by violence, threat of violence or coercion — is punishable by two to five years in jail.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Other (e.g. undefined, organisation, community)
- Intimidation and Threats
- Restrictions on Movement
- Violence (physical)
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of assembly
- Media freedom
- Right to healthy and safe environment
- Community-based HRD
- Media Worker
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 23 October 2020, around 30 community-based defenders were forcibly dispersed by the police while staging a peaceful protest, and at least 6 media workers intimidated for covering the event in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.