Activists Still in Custody; Foreigner Grilled

Ratcheting up pressure on the “Black Monday” campaign, police kept two activists in jail on Tuesday night after arresting them on Monday at a peaceful vigil, while a Spanish national was also grilled by immigration police over her involvement.

The campaign was launched 15 weeks ago to call for the release of four officers at local rights group Adhoc and an election official who were jailed in what are widely perceived to be politically motivated cases. On Monday evening, social activists Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were bundled into police vehicles as authorities broke up a vigil in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood attended mostly by women and children who held lotus flowers and banners as they shouted slogans. 

A man walks out of the Daun Penh district police station in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A man walks out of the Daun Penh district police station in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

While arrests of activists have been a regular occurrence during three months of Black Monday demonstrations, they have always been released on the same day they were detained, usually after signing a contract to cease protesting.

Ms. Vanny and Ms. Sophea, however, have now been held in the Daun Penh district police station for two nights—by law, they may be detained without charge for 48 hours unless a special extension is approved by a prosecutor.

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said authorities had decided to take stronger action against the pair because the campaigners had repeatedly ignored warnings and broken promises not to rally in public.

“The Black Monday campaign, the government has not allowed them to do it. We have made contracts with them many times but they never follow them, so police have to take action,” Mr. Chanyada said.

“Both of them, they are the leaders,” he said, declining to comment further.

Boeng Kak activist Sung Sreyleap, who took part in Monday’s vigil, denounced the arrests and refuted the authorities’ justification.

“When we signed the contracts they asked us to be good citizens and not to destroy society, so we followed that and we never behaved in a way that could have a bad effect on society. Why are they saying we broke the contract?” she said.

District police declined to comment on the case for a second day.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said it was up to the district police to decide whether to try to prosecute the pair.

“The district judicial police, they can organize documents and send them to the court,” he said.

About 20 activists rallied outside the Daun Penh district police station from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday calling for their release.

At about 10 a.m., immigration police arrived at the police station and detained a Spanish woman who was protesting with the Boeng Kak activists and took her for questioning at the immigration department.

Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, named the woman as 38-year-old Marga Bujosa Segado.

Asked why she was taken in for questioning, Major General Heisela said authorities had grown suspicious of her regular presence at Boeng Kak protests.

“We detained her because we see her every week joining with them. What is her plan?” Maj. Gen. Heisela said.

However, after questioning her and finding that she had a valid passport and visa, police released Ms. Segado in the late afternoon, he said. 

“If she does anything against the law with that group, then we will let authorities take action,” he said.

Contacted by telephone after her release, Ms. Segado, a researcher at Granada University in Spain, said immigration officials warned her against taking part in future demonstrations.

“Because myself, not being a journalist or an NGO worker, I’m just making research for the university. They told me it’s not good for the Cambodian government,” she said.

“They said I can research but not demonstrate or [take part in] activism,” she added. “They told me that if I want to join again in any political activity…they will send me to the court.”

She said immigration officials then attempted to make her sign a contract stating that she had gone to the immigration department by her own volition and that she had agreed to leave her passport at the department, but she refused.

“I wasn’t agreeing at all. Then I told them I would like to take my passport and I didn’t want to sign the paper. Then they were not really nice and finally I didn’t sign the paper but they kept the passport,” she said, adding that she was told her passport would be returned today.

While numerous rights organizations initially launched the Black Monday campaign, all have since drifted into the background amid government threats, leaving activists from the capital’s eviction-hit neighborhoods alone in their public defiance. 

Despite the opposition CNRP half-heartedly backing Black Monday last week by having its lawmakers start to wear black shirts to work, it has sought to distance itself from officially taking part in the campaign.

Asked if the party planned to actively oppose the arrests of the Boeng Kak activists, spokesman Yim Sovann said: “We have to check first what happened and why they were arrested.”

“We have not organized but we respect the will of each individual,” he said of the party’s position toward Black Monday protests. “If they want to express their opinion they are free to do. We the party haven’t organized any event related to that.”

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