Police have summoned two representatives from separate human rights groups for questioning today about food they provided to a group of more than 100 protesters who have camped out in front of the Banteay Meanchey provincial courthouse for almost a month, police and rights groups officials said Thursday.
Provincial court authorities ordered provincial police to question Ung Samith, Licadho provincial coordinator, and Pen Bonlay, provincial coordinator for Human Rights Vigilance of Cambodia, about the rights groups’ distribution of approximately 100 kilograms of uncooked rice and fish sauce to the courthouse protestors, provincial police chief Hun Hean said.
“Distribution of rice for those protesters is an activity that encourages protesters to continue protesting, which causes disorder and damage to the public area,” the police chief said, adding that protesters have built tents in front of the courthouse.
“We just summoned [the rights workers] to clarify for us their strong support in distributing rice for protesters,” he said.
Mr Hean said the protesters appeared on July 20 and are supporting Van Saroeun and Khloeng Da, who are in pretrial detention on robbery charges for an April 19 incident in Raksmey Samakey Meanchey village in Nimit commune, Poipet City. The protesters hail from the same village and claim authorities are holding the men in relation to a land dispute and not a robbery, said Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc.
Chou Pharin, chief of provincial police’s minor crimes office, said the two rights workers will not be arrested or punished, but police want to know their reasons for giving out the rice and fish sauce. He added the police are investigating the robbery allegations in-depth because police also suspect the two men of being involved with grabbing state land in their commune.
Police do not know the exact amount of food distributed but the two NGOs made secret promises with the protesters to give them more supplies when they run out, he said.
“I think that it was not humanitarian activities because there are a lot of poor people that need similar help,” he added.
Both rights groups confirmed they gave food to the protesters but only as routine aid activity.
“My organization just distributed a few bottles of fish sauce and some rice as humanitarian work,” Mr Bonlay said, adding he plans to cooperate with police to prove that his “organization has no intention of encouraging the protesters to continue protesting.”
Mr Samith declined to comment and directed questions to Licadho’s head office in Phnom Penh.
Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s senior human rights monitor, said the protest and the food distribution were separate issues.
“We gave rice to them but not with the intention to incite villagers to commit violence or protest,” he said. “Our activities are not crimes, especially since it is not long-term or permanent help.”
“Our organization works on protecting human rights and gives food to people when they are facing food shortages and need urgent help,” he said.
Mr Sam Ath said at least one Licadho official will be at the questioning today, although he was not sure if Mr Samith would appear.