Despite video evidence showing that government security guards assaulted two labor activists in Phnom Penh on Monday during a protest against the new union law, authorities on Tuesday blamed the unionists for the violence.
As they attempted to clear out protesters from the street in front of the National Assembly in the morning, Daun Penh district guards reverted to the aggressive tactics often on display during protests following the 2013 election.
In one case on Monday, guards grabbed union official Suot Chet and began pulling him away from the crowd. With Mr. Chet’s arms being held back, a guard punched the unionist above the left eye, drawing blood.
Earlier during the protest, the head of the guards, Kim Vutha, engaged in a shouting match with union leader Yaing Sophorn, who was refusing to follow his demand that she move. After Ms. Sophorn said “Don’t touch me,” Mr. Vutha grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the ground.
Daun Penh district governor Kuoch Chamroeun argued on Tuesday, however, that the protesters were at fault.
“The protesters used violence first,” he said, declining to say whether anyone would be punished for the incident. “If we punish, we have to do both sides because they fought each other.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the protesters should have listened when they were asked to move.
“They have the competence to control the crowds,” he said of the guards. “If you don’t obey their order, you get what you wanted.”
Mr. Chet said the suggestion that the protesters started the violence was nonsense.
“It is ridiculous that they claim we initially started the violence. We have evidence on video clips that the guards chased and beat us,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)