Besieged by color revolutionaries, agitators and criminal politicians, the Interior Ministry kept the country safe from encroaching instability—at least, that was the ministry’s boast on Wednesday at its annual meeting.
“In our country, there are some extremist groups who aim to incite chaos and insecurity in society,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng said at the meeting in Phnom Penh.
Public security generally improved last year in spite of bad actors who agitated “against the government’s legitimacy through a color revolution called ‘Black Monday’ and some political disputes,” the ministry said in a report presented at the meeting.
About two dozen activists wearing black have regularly assembled on Mondays to demand that the government release political prisoners. Rights group Licadho puts the count of political prisoners currently at 25, though the government says the courts are independent and denies that any of the cases before them are political.
In the report, the ministry praises its own handling of the 1,089 demonstrations it recorded last year—up from 832 in 2015—saying that authorities had maintained social harmony by respecting the law and protesters’ rights.
The protests were “partly provoked by people or workers demanding resolutions to land disputes or working conditions, and partly provoked to incitement by political parties and some civil society organizations with extremist tendencies who raise border, race and human rights issues as pretexts to poison society’s atmosphere.”
The ministry also defended its pursuit of a litany of cases that rights groups and some Western countries have said were politically motivated. It claims in the report that the public supported its prosecution of opposition politicians accused of disseminating fake border maps and treaties, students who incited “color revolutions” and made threats against Mr. Kheng in Facebook posts, and five current and former rights workers accused of bribery related to a sex scandal that ensnared acting opposition leader Kem Sokha.
The ministry’s account of its heroics in the face of the country’s civil disobedience was disputed on Wednesday by Am Sam Ath, a monitoring manager for Licadho, who was beaten by Daun Penh district security guards in an otherwise peaceful October demonstration. No guards were charged over the assault, but Mr. Sam Ath is now a suspect in a criminal complaint filed by the guards.
“I have seen that the majority of issues were caused by land disputes,” he said. “If authorities settled the issues, there would not be demonstrations.”
“Our Cambodia is not clear on the difference between color revolution and freedom of expression,” Mr. Sam Ath added.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the ministry’s “so-called achievements reads like a political hit list written by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP.”
“No wonder then that the basic administration of the country is failing from corruption and incompetence when the major government administrative body is focused on politics rather than delivering basic socio-economic development, an end to crime, and peace and order,” he wrote in an email on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)