Familiar scenes of police ripping banners during heated scuffles with protesters marked the fourth “Black Monday,” as activists continued to call for the release of human rights workers who have been in Prey Sar prison for almost one month.
Around a dozen activists from eviction-hit communities congregated at the Choam Chao roundabout near Phnom Penh International Airport at about 8 a.m. on Monday, holding multicolored balloons and banners calling for the release of four officers from local rights group Adhoc and an election official.
All five were jailed on May 2 for their alleged role in bribing a woman to deny an affair with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Within half an hour of Monday’s protest starting, around 20 police officers had confiscated the banners and balloons and briefly surrounded the black-clad women before allowing them to walk down National Road 3.
After walking about a kilometer south, the activists stopped to pen some new banners before about 20 police officers hopped off a police truck and again ripped them apart.
A scuffle then broke out as the activists attempted to continue their march, with police forcibly dragging the screaming women from the road. Following about an hour of negotiations with police, the women eventually agreed to be driven back to their homes.
“There are a lot of robbers and land grabbers, why don’t you go and arrest them? Why have you come to stop us?” said Ngov Nary, who was briefly arrested for protesting during the second Black Monday, after being dragged to the side of the road.
“Why don’t you go and shout at the court?” one of the police officers replied. “Why are you yelling at us?”
Deputy Pur Senchey district police chief Touch Phorn questioned reporters filming the protest and accused demonstrators of dramatizing the situation to get foreign funds.
“When you take photographs will you write something good about the police? A few showing this is enough for donor countries to provide funds to them,” Mr. Phorn said.
“We will not arrest them, but we need to prevent them—their activity is affecting public order. They cannot march and hold banners like this. They have no permission,” he said.
Similar scenes unfolded as the sun was setting on the capital’s Boeng Kak neighborhood where Daun Penh district security guards prevented around 40 protesters from marching, said Song Sreyleap, one of the organizers.
“They banned us from rallying at Prey Sar prison or any public place, so we decided to rally and march around our community, but dozens of Daun Penh security guards came to prevent us. They attempted to confiscate our microphones and banners,” Ms. Sreyleap said.
District governor Kouch Chamroeun confirmed the guards were ordered to block the march as the activists had “no permission.”
Senior government officials have made various threats against Black Monday protesters, calling such demonstrations acts of “urban rebellion” and pledging that any protests held without permission would result in legal action, even those carried out online.