Police Stall Gas Protest by Detaining Leader

A demonstration planned for Wednesday failed to assemble af­ter police detained its organizer, who had called for thousands to protest high gasoline prices outside the National Assembly.

Dangkao district police Chief Mom Sowath said he detained Sok Sambath, head of the Asso­ci­a­tion for Development of People’s Transportation and the Cambo­dian Freedom Democracy Right, for several hours so municipal po­lice and a court prosecutor could “educate” him about demonstrations.

Despite the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to peaceful as­sembly, City Hall has allowed on­ly a handful of public gatherings since the Jan 29, 2003, anti-Thai riots. None has been critical of the government.

“I am very regretful. It shows the Royal Government is abusing the freedom of speech,” Sok Sam­bath, 29, said after his release.

“The government has no intention of reducing gasoline prices, he added. “That is why they prevent us from demonstrating.”

He described how he and two associates were driving to meet protesters at an assembly point outside the National Museum at 6:40 am when about seven police motorcycles surrounded their vehicle and forced them to pull over.

He said the car, which had a bullhorn strapped on top, was then surrounded by about 40 officers from the Dangkao district police, the municipal military police and the elite Flying Tiger police.

Mom Sowath said police took Sok Sambath into custody be­cause: “He had banners and a megaphone so we apprehended him to prevent him from demonstrating.”

Sok Sambath said he was then taken to the district post, without handcuffs and told to not organize demonstrations.

He said he told them he would do it again and then thumb-printed a statement to that effect.

“We will do it again in about 15 days,” he told reporters.

Until then, his organization, which claims about 1,000 members, will lobby lawmakers from all three parties in the National Assembly to lower gasoline prices, Sok Sambath said.

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