Anti-eviction activists went ahead with their plan to march across the city Wednesday, despite orders from City Hall not to do so and general government warnings against protesting amid the persistent political tensions following July’s contested national election.
Undeterred, about 150 mostly female activists from the Boeng Kak community eventually pressed past police barricades set up around their neighborhood and marched from Wat Phnom to the Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of the arrest of fellow activist Yorm Bopha.
Ms. Bopha, who on Wednesday marked her first anniversary in prison, is serving a two-year jail sentence on a conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Police did, however, confiscate most of the activists’ protest materials including banners and bunches of lotus flowers, before eventually allowing them to leave the Boeng Kak area.
Phnom Penh municipal authorities had denied the group’s request to march, citing concerns about public order and traffic jams. On Saturday, the city is expecting to see thousands turn out in support of the opposition CNRP, for what the party has dubbed a prayer rally rather than a demonstration.
At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the protesters sang in front of the locked gates and released 365 white balloons, one for each day of Ms. Bopha’s incarceration.
“I hope the Supreme Court will provide justice for my wife because she did not commit any crime,” said Ms. Bopha’s husband, Luos Sakhorn.
Ms. Bopha was convicted in late 2012 for ordering the assault of two tuk-tuk drivers earlier that year. Ms. Bopha denied the charge, and human rights groups have condemned the verdict as politically motivated because of her involvement in anti-eviction protests. She is currently waiting for the court to schedule her retrial.
“Bopha’s case is political because the evidence clearly shows that [Prime Minister] Hun Sen spoke on TV saying Bopha’s case involves violence,” her husband said. “There are millions of violent cases. Why does he only talk about Bopha’s case. But Chhouk Bundith’s case, I’ve never heard him [Mr. Hun Sen] mention it at all.”
Chhouk Bundith is the ex-Bavet City governor who remains at large after his conviction earlier this year for the 2012 shooting of three garment factory workers. He has never been detained despite being named as the main suspect shortly after the triple shooting.
A pickup truck belonging to the Cambodian Center For Human Rights (CCHR), which was carrying the protestors’ banners and flowers on Wednesday, was detained in the Boeng Kak area.
Police finally released the vehicle after Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth was summoned to the scene and the vehicle was thoroughly searched, revealing only banners and flowers.
“We detained the pickup truck because it was transporting materials supporting Yorm Bopha’s case. We are afraid the materials you transport could be dangerous to people,” the deputy prosecutor told a CCHR staff member.
Mr. Chanpiseth declined to speak with reporters before leaving the scene.
“It is a serious human rights abuse that the police confiscated the [banners and flowers] belonging to residents,” said Sung Sreyleap, one of the protesters. “Police should have helped the people hold the event, not confiscated the materials like thieves.”