For only the third time in eight weeks, authorities refrained from arresting activists during a “Black Monday” demonstration in Phnom Penh, although participants claimed that dozens of would-be protesters had stayed away after receiving warnings from a local official.
For the past two months, black-clad activists from Phnom Penh’s eviction-hit communities have organized small protests demanding the release of an election official and four officers from rights group Adhoc—all five jailed on bribery charges as part of the government’s ongoing investigation into claims that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha took a mistress.
Five of the past eight Black Monday protests have culminated in the arrests of activists, and several saw scuffles between participants and security forces.
On Monday, however, a group of 14 land-rights activists gathered undisturbed on a dirt road in Pur Senchey district’s Borei Santepheap II neighborhood for about 30 minutes, holding up posters and scrawling slogans on balloons.
“Last week, we were detained by authorities because they accused us of marching and affecting public order, and today we held it in the community and did not march anywhere—and that’s why they cannot accuse us,” said Im Sreytouch, a member of the Boeng Kak community who has twice been arrested and released on previous Black Mondays.
Another protester, Chram Nim of the Thma Kol community, adjacent to the airport, blamed the modest turnout on warnings from a village chief in Pur Senchey’s Choam Chao commune.
“There were plans for 50 to join the Black Monday campaign, but some of them didn’t come because they were told by village chief Sar Davy in Tamnak Trayoeng village: ‘You are not allowed to wear black,’” Ms. Nim said.
Mr. Davy could not be reached for comment.
Asked why police or security guards had not been deployed to monitor the protest, City Hall administration chief Mean Chanyada responded sardonically.
“If you want the authorities to make arrests, please, tell us, and authorities will go and arrest them,” he said.