Three activists from the environmental NGO Mother Nature and a human rights monitor were detained in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district for about three hours Thursday after City Hall deemed a planned march to the National Assembly illegal.
The activists said that about 10 to 15 people planned to march from the Phnom Penh Center on Sothearos Boulevard to the National Assembly to deliver a petition asking the government to intervene in a dispute between villagers in Koh Kong province and a sand dredging company.
But at about 8:30 a.m. district security guards swooped in, arresting the three activists and the monitor from human rights group Adhoc, stopping the march before it could begin, witnesses said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the municipality pulled the plug because officials decided the size of the demonstration had grown too large.
“There were hundreds of people demonstrating and marching to submit a petition in front of the National Assembly without a letter of permission,” Mr. Dimanche said. “It affected public order…. They cannot do activities like that.”
However, according to the detained activists, other members of Mother Nature and Nay Vanda, deputy head of the human rights and legal aid section at Adhoc, who watched Thursday’s events unfold, there were no more than 20 people involved with the march.
“In total, there were about 10 to 20 people,” Mr. Vanda said. “They had the right to nonviolently express their concerns about sand dredging.”
After being detained Thursday, the activists—Sorn Chandara, 23, Chek Nitra, 21, and Deoum Kundy, 20—were transferred to the district headquarters along with Dit Sokthy, 31, the Adhoc monitor.
Deputy district governor Chor Kim Sor questioned the four before releasing them before noon.
When the questioning was finished, Mr. Kim Sor declined to comment on what had transpired. However, Mr. Dimanche from City Hall said the activists were “educated” and the Adhoc monitor was only mistakenly detained.
“We didn’t know who was who,” he said. “Those who go against the authorities…we have to round them up.”
After his release, Mr. Chandara, one of the activists, said the security guards used violence against them.
“The security guards arrested us and then slapped our faces and confiscated our petitions,” he said. “Is that not illegal?”