Amid government threats of a crackdown, members of civil society on Friday said they would not proceed with next week’s planned “Black Monday” protest against the imprisonment of rights activists and other figures on what the U.N. has dubbed “politically motivated” charges.
The apparent cancellation comes after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Tuesday that he would ban any future protests in which participants are all dressed in the same color, following the arrest of eight black-clad human rights officers and activists during the first “Black Monday” protest in Phnom Penh the day before.
The weekly peaceful protests were meant to be in support of several people—including human rights workers, an election official, a CNRP commune chief and a U.N. worker—who have been jailed or charged in connection with allegedly conspiring to bribe the mistress of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha to lie about their extramarital affair.
But Buntenh, a dissident monk who was blocked from protesting on Monday and initially vowed to return this coming week, said there had been a change of plan.
“We are looking for another alternative choice, because wearing black T-shirts—the government has warned [us],” the monk said.
“This is not 100 percent canceled. We are only busy with some other work and then the time when we are able, we will do ‘Black Monday’ again,” he added.
Ee Sarom, one of the protesters who was arrested on Monday, said he would be avoiding future “Black Monday” protests because of comments made in a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday claiming that a royal pardon might be in the works for the activists in jail.
“I cannot. For me, I am sure that we are not going to do anything,” said Mr. Sarom, who is the executive director of housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.
“Let’s wait and see. Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested about the possibility to pardon after the conviction,” he added, declining to comment further.
Chhay Kimhorn, an activist from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood, said that her community would be staying away in light of government intimidation in the community over the wearing of black clothing since Monday.
“For our community, we will still wear black shirts every Monday until the five people are released, but we will not go to hold the campaign in public because now ‘Black Monday’ shirts are a sensitive problem, and the authorities are still monitoring us,” Ms. Kimhorn said.
“We are concerned about our safety,” she added.
The decision not to move forward with another “Black Monday” protest comes as the U.N. released a statement on Thursday calling on the government to stop targeting civil society, human rights officials, lawmakers and U.N. personnel.
“The escalation of criminal charges, questioning, court proceedings and public statements against them must cease,” the statement said.
“We are also troubled by the actions taken by Cambodian authorities to deter and disperse peaceful demonstrations and arrest individuals protesting what they see as Government’s mounting persecution of civil society and unjustified restrictions of fundamental freedoms in the country,” it said.
The statement was signed by Michel Forst, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Maina Kiai, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and Rhona Smith, the special rapporteur on Cambodia.
“The investigators’ relentless quest for a confession by the young woman, their subsequent outright reliance on it to initiate the other ‘bribery’ cases against defenders, as well as public statements by senior State officials portraying the accused as guilty, generally suggest that this entire episode is nothing more than a politically-motivated persecution of civil society. It also raises serious questions about woefully flawed due process,” it said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he thought the U.N. needed to get its facts straight.
“[The U.N.] have to research why it happened. A few number of NGOs, they reacted against what we call a procedure of the court. It’s a term of questioning…are they above the law? I don’t think so. Everyone needs to be under one law together,” Mr. Siphan said.
“They should refrain from making any statements that might damage their credibility. They do not represent the facts of Cambodia.”