Minister Asked To Explain Protest Violence

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann has writ­ten to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for Interior Minister Sar Kheng to appear before the Na­tional Assembly to answer questions over violence that erupted when police dispersed two recent protests.

At least one monk was reportedly beaten unconscious with an electric baton following a tense two-hour standoff outside the Vietnamese Embassy between police and more than 50 Khmer Krom monks on Dec 17. On Dec 19, Ratanakkiri provincial police used water hoses to disperse peaceful marchers protesting against land-grabbing and illegal logging.

“The police force have been using violence to crack down on monks, ordinary people and civil society groups who take part in demonstrations, strikes and marches, which are organized for free expression [and] to demand human rights,” Yim Sovann wrote in the letter to the prime minister December 28.

He said the violence used by police to break up the peaceful protests betrayed the Constitution and was an abuse of basic human rights.

“To be a lawmaker, I need to ask the government in accordance with existent law to send their leaders to answer my questions whenever there is violence against peaceful demonstrators,” Yim Sovann wrote.

Ratanakkiri provincial Adhoc coordinator Pen Bonnar said by telephone December 28 that he also desires a full explanation of the violence, and added that such incidents will ultimately lead to more unrest.

“The violent breakup does not discourage people,” Pen Bonnar said. “It creates more anger and will increase the number of angry people who march and protest for their rights,” he said.

CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel, who is also National Assembly first vice president, said it was within a lawmaker’s right to ask questions of a minister and to request a meeting. Nguon Nhel said he wasn’t sure whether police had acted out of line or not in the two incidents cited by Yim Sovann. “Every citizen has full rights to assemble, but they must respect the law…. If you abuse the existing law, it is illegal and then they can crack down,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment on December 28.


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