A small group of activists say they will carry the so-called “Black Monday” protest into its third week today in the face of mounting efforts by the government to shut down the campaign.
More than a dozen people have been arrested and released by police since protesters dressed in black shirts first gathered outside of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on May 9 to demand the release of four human rights officers and an election official.
The five have been charged with conspiring to bribe a hairdresser to deny an alleged affair with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha as part of a government-led investigation widely seen as being politically motivated.
Despite the arrests—and threats of more—a few dozen activists drawn mostly from the capital’s eviction-hit communities say they plan to keep the public protest going today.
Chray Nim, one of the organizers, said they would rally in the early afternoon at a relocation site for evictees in Dangkao district, known as Borei Santepheap II, where they believe authorities are less likely to pay attention to them.
“We will wear black and hold banners, but we will not march or protest at Prey Sar prison because we are worried that there could be violence if we do,” she said. “We are not afraid of arrest because we are not doing anything wrong.”
But City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said their precautions might not save them.
“We will wait to see what their freedom of expression campaign for Black Monday looks like. Even though we have banned them, they have ignored us a few times already,” he said.
“We are the authority and we will try to educate them first. If that’s not possible, we will use administrative measures and legal action.”
Mr. Chanyada declined to elaborate on what those measures and actions might be, but such warnings have often been a prelude to arrests.
“We do not want violence with our brothers and sisters who protest,” he said. “But if they still violate the law and violate the rules, we must take action.”
Separately, the prospective Cambodian Youth Party announced plans for a march on its Facebook page to deliver a petition to King Norodom Sihamoni on May 30 asking him to intervene on behalf of the four jailed Adhoc officers and an election official who recently left the rights organization.
The post does not say where they plan to march from or to nor how many people they expect to join, only that they hope to collect some 6,000 names in time for the event.
Popular radio station owner and politician Mam Sonando also informed City Hall last week that he planned to hold a rally on July 9 in Freedom Park with 200 supporters calling for the group’s release.
On Thursday, Defense Minister Tea Banh warned of more arrests unless the Black Monday protesters received prior permission from authorities before any event.
But authorities have been loath to approve their plans.
Ahead of the first Black Monday protest, when eight people were detained for most of the day, government spokesman Phay Siphan said permission was out of the question because their peaceful rally would amount to “urban rebellion” and that their black shirts were a gauche reminder of the Khmer Rouge.
The protesters say they chose black to symbolize their mourning for the jailed people they want released and for what they see as the broader deterioration of human rights in Cambodia.
On Friday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said taking the Black Monday protest online might also require permission. The Justice Ministry has already warned rights group Licadho that a page on its website listing political prisoners, including the five people whose arrests sparked the Black Monday protests, could get the NGO suspended.