Police Stop Khmer Front’s Anti-Jan 7 Rally

Zealous police officers armed with batons flung four anti-Jan 7 demonstrators onto a police truck and carted them from the National Assembly on Wednes­day, then later threatened to take action against journalists if they did not stop reporting on their crackdown.

Scores of district police and military police were deployed to crack down on the Khmer Front Party, which had planned to demonstrate against the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

The student activist group opposes the celebration because, members say, Jan 7 marks the start of Vietnam’s 10-year occupation of Cambodia.

Only four Khmer Front members showed up at the park across from the National Assembly, punching fists into the air and shouting “Down with January 7!”

Police chased the four around the park, before finally lifting them by their collars to throw them into the waiting truck.

Three of the four men were taken to Daun Penh district police headquarters and forced to thumbprint a paper promising not to demonstrate, detainee Pen Ratana said.

Phan Phen, district police chief, said police did not force the men to sign. Three were released without charges, while the fourth had escaped en route to the station

Police later blocked off the street outside the Khmer Front Party headquarters, herding activists inside their building with electric batons. No one was hurt.

With students contained inside the building, police next turned their attention to the journalists outside.

The officers, who had earlier ordered reporters to leave the park in front of the Assembly, warned journalists at the Khmer Front building to leave or face “action.” Several journalists then hurried away.

Daun Penh district deputy police chief Svay Thuon threatened to confiscate one reporter’s tape recorder and notebook. He claimed journalists were responsible for the protesters’ shouts and were disturbing the peace.

CPP spokesman and Information Ministry Secretary of State Khieu Kanharith said the government did not give orders for police to strong-arm or intimidate reporters.

“Journalists can do anything they like. Cambodia is free,” he said. “It must be an individual misunderstanding with police,” he claimed.

Khieu Kanharith said the incident was “not a big deal,” adding that he would have taken action if police had carried through with their threat to act against the reporters.

Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists and the editor of Rasmei Kampuchea, called the police behavior “misconduct” and undemocratic.

“The police have the right to protect security, but the journalists have the right to observe what’s going on,” he said. “It’s very important that reporters observe the event.”

Though the government routinely prohibits public gatherings, Wednesday was the first time police have exerted direct pressure on journalists covering a public event.

The international group Reporters Without Borders ranked Cambodia 71 out of 139 countries in a 2002 survey of press freedom.

Chan Soveth, chief monitor at the human rights group Adhoc,

said the police crackdown on demonstrators was unconstitutional.

“Authorities should obey the law,” he said, adding that people have the right to expression.

The strong police presence came on the orders of Governor Kep Chuktema who warned earlier that he would not tolerate opposition to Jan 7.

Khieu Kanharith shifted responsibility for the ban and crackdown from the government on Wednesday saying Kep Chuktema was responsible.

“The mayor refused the demonstration, it’s not the government,” Khieu Kanharith said.

But in a radio interview with Voice of America early Wednesday morning, Kep Chuktema said all of his actions were taken on behalf of the government.

“I have no choice, because this is the work of the Ministry of Interior and the government,” he said.




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