Government Bites Back as ‘Black Monday’ Returns

The long-running “Black Monday” campaign restarted on Monday after a two-week hiatus amid arrests and trials of activists, and the government promptly warned protesters that their actions were being “recorded” and that they could be targeted if they continue to demonstrate.

Starting in May, dozens of activists from Phnom Penh’s eviction-hit neighborhoods took to the streets for 18 straight weeks, with a wide range of demands including the release of jailed officers from rights group Adhoc and an independent investigation into the July murder of political commentator Kem Ley.

Protesters hold photos of jailed activist Tep Vanny in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood yesterday marking the latest “Black Monday.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Protesters hold photos of jailed activist Tep Vanny in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood on Monday marking the latest “Black Monday.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Last month, activists Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were thrown into police cars while protesters cursed effigies of court officials, and were later found guilty of “insulting.” Ms. Vanny and three other activists were last week sentenced to six months in prison for insulting and obstructing public officials during a 2011 protest.

The Black Monday campaign seemed to be withering away as a result. On Monday, however, activ­ists came back out onto the streets for two separate vigils in the capital’s Borei Keila and Boeng Kak communities.

In the morning, dozens of police and security guards descended on Borei Keila around 9:30 a.m., destroying banners and confiscating a straw effigy representing corrupt court officials, said activist Sor Sorn.

At about 5 p.m., roughly 40 protesters took to the Boeng Kak neighborhood, criticizing what they described as corrupt officials working for Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Women from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community call for the release of fellow activist Tep Vanny during a protest on Monday marking “Black Monday.” (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“In the past, the Khmer Rouge forced people to dress in black,” shouted protester Kong Chantha, who was sentenced alongside Ms. Vanny last week but remains free pending appeal.

“Now, Mr. Hun Sen, you are the one who has made us dress in black again.”

Bo Chhorvy, who was also handed a six-month sentence last week, defended the group’s ongoing protests.

“We don’t have any intention to overthrow the government or use violence against the authorities,” she said. “Instead, the people who defend the people’s rights…were arrested, put in jail or shot dead.”

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said that arrests would begin again if activists restarted the campaign, blaming NGOs, which he declined to name, for fueling the protests

“We see the Black Monday campaign as the movement against the Royal Government,” Mr. Chanyada said. “As authorities, we will continue to implement the law.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak warned protesters not to rebel against Mr. Hun Sen, who has spoken against the dangers of a “color revolution.” He said that authorities would be taking note of those involved in the campaign and could target protesters retroactively.

“Even if this month you are free, please don’t commit a sin—we have already recorded it,” General Sopheak said.

“You are free today, but next time it will be serious,” he added. “Like Ms. Tep Vanny, her case is a few years old, but we recorded it. Please be careful.”

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