With at least one prominent activist announcing that he would retreat from the streets to the perceived safety of the internet to support this coming week’s “Black Monday” campaign, a senior government official warned on Friday that even in cyberspace Cambodians must ask for permission to demonstrate.
The usually defiant and uncompromising activist monk But Buntenh, who has helped organize the Black Monday events—in which protesters wear black in support of a recently jailed group of current and former rights workers—said the government’s crackdown on the protests had forced him to move his activism online.
“The government is very fearful of this campaign, so we do not need to go out, but we have to carry on our campaign online on social media,” But Buntenh said.
“We understood that by doing this, everyone is involved with it. Even Prime Minister Hun Sen is seriously engaging with his Facebook, so he will know we are not stopping. We try to go forward even if we do not appear in person,” he said.
But Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that even moving their protest online would not spare individuals such as But Buntenh from the need to gain official permission for their activities.
“I think that he can come and talk with the municipality authorities [to see] whether they allow it —even online,” Gen. Sopheak said.
“Even though we don’t have the online law, of course whatever online propaganda that can harm or instigate people to rise up…that is not good for the security and the peace,” he said.
The Black Monday protesters are demanding the release of four jailed human rights workers and an election official, who were charged with bribery along with a U.N. employee over their alleged role in a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. Human rights groups have blasted the case as an attempt by the ruling CPP to silence its critics.
In the two weeks since the Black Monday protests began, groups in Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear provinces who have attempted to support the campaign by posting photographs of themselves online wearing black clothing or holding up messages have been called in for questioning and reprimanded by provincial officials.