Eight foreigners were detained by immigration police for more than nine hours Tuesday after they staged a human rights protest from inside two trucks outside the donor meeting at the Council for the Development of Cambodia, officials said.
Three Americans, two Canadians, one Briton, one Dane and one New Zealander were taken away by police shortly before 9 am for allegedly causing a public disturbance by driving around Wat Phnom in two trucks featuring placards denouncing the imprisonment of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, two men convicted of killing Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.
The protestors in the truck were part of a group of other foreigners at the entrance to the CDC who were handing out leaflets bearing the logos of local rights group Licadho and calling for the release of the two men. Licadho later distanced themselves from the detained protestors.
“We asked [the foreign nationals] not to cause public disorder,” Municipal Immigration Police Chief Mom Sitha said, adding that the men and women were released at around 6 pm.
Mom Sitha said that police detained the Westerners after repeatedly warning them to take down the signs and to stop blocking traffic when they halted their vehicles outside the CDC building where the donor-government meeting was in progress.
When the trucks circled to the west end of Wat Phnom they were subsequently impounded and the Westerners were taken to immigration police headquarters, Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said standing outside the CDC. She added that no one from Licadho was on the trucks.
“These are all diverse people who got together from different backgrounds,” Naly Pilorge said by telephone later in the day.
“The point was not to embarrass [the government] but to highlight the situation of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun,” she said, adding that she was relieved that the activists had been released.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap accused the Westerners of abusing Cambodia’s sovereignty.
“Foreigners in Cambodia are using too much power and we cannot accept it,” he said.
Speaking by mobile phone from Immigration Police Headquarters, US national Steve Gourley, 40, who described himself as “a freelance child rights activist,” said the group was a “coalition that has no name.”
“In the end I think it’s been a good day. We brought attention to the issue,” he said.
Mom Sitha said the detainees would have been freed earlier if they had agreed to sign a document promising to not cause further disturbance. “We didn’t want to detain them, but they did not recognize their mistakes,” he said.
Gourley said he and his fellow detainees were released after they eventually signed a similar document but with wording more to their liking and which did not imply that they had broken the law.