Helmeted Gov’t Guards Beat Onlookers at Freedom Park

A contingent of district security guards assaulted a small group of CNRP supporters and onlookers near Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on Monday after having again forcibly removed CNRP public affairs chief Mu Sochua from the park.

About 10 people sustained minor injuries and at least four were left bleeding from head wounds after deputy Daun Penh district governor Sok Penhvuth personally shouted orders to the baton-wielding security guards to beat anyone filming Ms. Sochua without wearing a visible press card.

A Daun Penh district security guard prepares to knee a man in the face Monday on a street adjacent to Phnom Penh's Freedom Park. (Ishikawa Masayori)
A Daun Penh district security guard prepares to knee a man in the face Monday on a street adjacent to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. (Ishikawa Masayori)

Mr. Penhvuth, along with Kim Vutha, commander of the Daun Penh security guards, pointed to individual photographers and people holding smartphones and shouted, “Fight them! Fight them!” during the scuffle.

The guards, wearing their customary full-faced black motorcycle helmets, struck people with their batons, and repeatedly kicked those who fell to the ground after being struck. At least one of the guards grabbed hold of a man’s head and kneed him directly in the face.

On Monday was Ms. Sochua’s sixth attempt to enter Phnom Penh’s designated protest space since the state lethally repressed growing protests and banned public gatherings.

Ms. Sochua was unharmed despite having scuffled with the guards after she successfully delivered a speech in the park. But Lim Kim Ya, a CNRP lawmaker-elect for Kompong Thom province, was struck on the face by a guard.

“They beat us because they are confused that they have impunity, but the situation is changing from the CPP to the CNRP. When the CNRP has power, I will order the courts to investigate them,” Mr. Kim Ya said.

Srey Samai, 28, an onlooker who said he had come to support Ms. Sochua’s campaign, was also wounded on the face.

“I came here for freedom of expression and did nothing wrong,” Mr. Samai said shortly after the violence. “I don’t even have a camera.”

Reached after the event, Long Dimanche, spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, blamed Ms. So­chua for the violent outburst of the guards.

“Ms. Mu Sochua has to be responsible because it is a place we have banned,” Mr. Dimanche said, in reference to Freedom Park.

“I believe that our security forces would not use violence if there was not incitement from a politician,” Mr. Dimanche added. “She is provoking chaos and she is making people hate other people.”

He said he was unaware that Mr. Penhvuth, the Daun Penh district deputy governor, had been at the park personally directing the guards to attack protesters.

Mr. Vutha, commander of the guards, declined to comment.

Monday’s violence was the first time authorities have directly attacked a gathering of CNRP members and supporters since the government in January sent plain-clothed guards and the Daun Penh guards with axes, batons and rods to end two weeks of growing anti-government protests.

Ms. Sochua said the sudden violence was a minor repeat of January’s repression.

“It’s the same deputy governor who was present, and his subordinates who were present, and who always stands there to give orders.

It’s systematic—it’s not random. They stood there to give orders,” she said.

Ms. Sochua said she would return to the park on April 30 after traveling to her constituency of Battambang province.

She dismissed the City Hall spokesman’s claim that she was inciting violence by trying to enter Freedom Park.

“He’s totally describing a government that is not legitimate and is trying to keep its power intact by traumatizing people,” Ms. Sochua said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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