Police Promise More Arrests if Koh Kong Protests Persist

A deputy police chief of Koh Kong province on Thursday defended the decision by authorities to arrest four human rights workers and 13 other people during a peaceful protest on Wednesday and said they were prepared to do so again—and next time would not let them go.

Dozens of locals had camped out near the provincial courthouse in Khemara Phoumint City to protest the August 17 arrest of three activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature who had organized demonstrations against sand dredging companies they accuse of damaging the environment and their fish stocks.

Authorities finally broke up the camp on Wednesday morning, arresting 10 protesters, the four rights workers, a journalist, a citizen journalist and another Mother Nature activist.

All 17 were released that evening.

On Thursday, deputy provincial police chief Kong Yan said the 17 were merely “detained” for questioning, but would be “arrested” next time, hinting at prosecution.

“We will arrest those people if they lead a protest against authorities again,” he said.

Mr. Yan accused the rights workers—monitors for the NGOs Adhoc and Licadho—of inciting the protesters and paying them money to participate, and said that provincial prosecutor Bou Bunhang was upset with him for insisting on their release.

“I have the right to accuse those people of incitement. But I don’t want to do that, so we just brought them in for questioning, then we let them return home,” he said. “The prosecutor was angry with me because I asked him to release the four human rights workers.”

In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for Licadho, who was among those arrested on Wednesday, denied inciting the protesters, or paying them.

“I wish to completely deny the accusations from the police,” he said. “We were just doing our jobs as human rights observers. But some [protesters] asked for help because they needed protection at night because they were afraid that bad people would try to do bad things.”

Mr. Kongchit said a group of unknown people ran through the camp outside the courthouse the night after it was set up, trampling on some of the protesters in the process. The demonstrators believed it was a deliberate attack, so the rights groups used their motorbikes to create a makeshift barrier around the camp on the nights that followed.

Undeterred by the deputy police chief’s threat, Mother Nature activist Sorn Chandara  said he planned to organize another protest in Koh Kong in the middle of this month, but would confer with the protesters before deciding on a day.

If and when the group protests again, Mr. Kongchit said, he would be there.

“We will go to monitor if the protest occurs again in Koh Kong because we are afraid the authorities will use violence on the protesters,” he said.

“I am not worried about being arrested because we are just doing our jobs observing the human rights situation.”


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