Security personnel arrested five anti-eviction activists Monday morning who were on their way to the French Embassy in hopes of soliciting the embassy’s help in releasing a fellow activist.
Witnesses said the five women were surrounded by Daun Penh district security guards outside the embassy while protesting peacefully and summarily pushed into an unmarked van that quickly drove them away.
Rights group Licadho identified the women as well known anti-eviction activists Tep Vanny and Yorm Bopha as well as Pan Chunreth, Bop Chorvy and Sok Srey Leap, all members of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community.
More members of the Boeng Kak community soon gathered outside the Phnom Penh municipal prison to demand their immediate release.
Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, urged authorities to immediately release the five women.
“I condemn [authorities] for the bad implementation of the law; the government is implementing the law against the women’s rights and against freedom of expression,” he said.
Mr. Phearum said the women were hoping to enlist the French Embassy’s help in securing the release of fellow Boeng Kak activist Chan Puthisak, who was himself arrested outside a Phnom Penh garment factory on Thursday where garment workers were protesting for a higher minimum wage.
At least some of the women arrested this morning have been arrested, charged and convicted before of crimes related to their activism, though rights groups have rebuked all the prosecutions as politically motivated and orchestrated.
Their arrests also follow a few days of violent clashes between security forces and garment workers in which five protesters have been shot dead. On Saturday, the Interior Ministry issued a blanket ban on all protests in Phnom Penh “until security and order are restored.”
Mok Chito, acting Phnom Penh municipal police chief, confirmed that five women had been arrested and referred further questions to deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng, who could not be reached.