The government’s crackdown on activists calling for the release of political prisoners has spread outside of the capital as Preah Vihear provincial authorities on Wednesday warned representatives of 10 NGOs to cease holding “Black Monday” protests or face repercussions.
The warnings came after four villagers were called for questioning in Mondolkiri province last week after a picture was posted to a community Facebook page of villagers holding banners calling for the release of four recently jailed rights activists and an elections official.
Ang Cheatlom, executive director of the Preah Vihear-based NGO Ponlok Khmer, said his staffers were called in along with nine other NGOs and formally warned by deputy provincial governor Sok Hai on Wednesday morning over a photograph that was posted to Facebook of about 20 land rights activists participating in the “Black Monday” campaign, holding up paper signs while wearing black.
“My staff joined the meeting this morning and reported to me that the provincial authorities threatened that if any NGOs still continue the campaign to wear black they will take action, but they did not clarify what kind of action they would take,” Mr. Cheatlom said.
Authorities also shut down a workshop organized by Ponlok Khmer on May 9, the first day of the Black Monday campaign, Mr. Cheatlom said.
“We held this campaign in our office only. What have we done wrong?” he said.
Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, Lor Chan, also attended the meeting and recounted a warning from Mr. Hai.
“He said he was really disappointed in some NGOs who claim to be independent but do silly things that contradict their role. He warned us that if we continue to make mistakes he will take action. He will not let us do this anymore,” Mr. Chan said.
Mr. Hai declined to comment.
Ung Vuthy, director of the provincial administration, confirmed that NGO representatives were called to the provincial hall to “talk about some work,” but declined to comment further.
Last week, a small group of ethnic Bunong villagers in Mondolkiri province were also called to the provincial hall for questioning after pictures were posted online of them holding banners calling for the release of the jailed rights officials.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the Mondolkiri villagers were “invited” to explain their actions and warned of the gravity of holding Black Monday protests.
“We just invited them to explain and now they already understand about it. At first they did not understand because they thought that maybe it’s a normal thing. They did not know what a [Black Monday] campaign is and now they understand so they will stop,” General Sopheak said.
The spokesman said that the country’s NGOs should cease their calls for the release of the rights officials.
“We invited them to explain that their activism will not achieve results…. They cannot do that. There’s nothing in the law that says they can hold a Black Monday campaign to demand the release of NGO officials,” he said.
“In [the] U.S., if you rally in front of the White House wearing black to demand the U.S. government to remove soldiers from Iraq, you will be in handcuffs,” he added.
The four jailed human rights workers and the election official, along with a U.N. employee, were charged with bribery over their alleged role in a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. Human rights groups have blasted the case as an attempt by the ruling CPP to silence its critics.