Scuffles broke out in Phnom Penh on Monday as about 100 police officers and government security guards blocked “Black Monday” activists attempting to pay their respects to popular government critic Kem Ley, who was gunned down on Sunday.
While nine previous Black Monday marches were held to protest the recent imprisonment of four rights workers and an election official, the focus of this week’s event shifted in light of the political analyst’s murder at a Phnom Penh gas station.
Some 40 black-clad land rights activists gathered in the city’s eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood at about 9 a.m. on Monday, holding portraits of the slain commentator along with lotus flowers and sticks of incense. Half an hour later, the group began marching toward Wat Chas in Chroy Changva district, where his body was lying in wake.
“Our main purpose is to mourn human rights in Cambodia,” prominent activist Tep Vanny shouted to the crowd.
“Today, we will send the message to Cambodian people here and around the world that we are mourning the loss of Kem Ley, a hero of the Cambodian people.”
But after marching for about 15 minutes, the activists were stopped by about 100 police officers and Daun Penh district security guards deployed near the French Embassy on Street 80. Minor scuffles erupted, but no one was injured or arrested.
“You came to stop the event even though we want to join Dr. Kem Ley’s funeral!” yelled activist Kong Chantha from atop an SUV accompanying the group. “Why don’t you spend your time arresting the people who are involved in the murder of Kem Ley, and land grabbers?”
The security personnel finally relented and let the protesters continue on to the pagoda, but only after they boarded a convoy of tuk-tuks.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the police and guards were sent to intercept the activists because all Black Monday marches had been banned.
“We did not have any intention to prevent them from joining the funeral, but they…mixed the Black Monday campaign with mourning Kem Ley,” he said.