About 100 protesters gathered outside the National Assembly on Friday morning to call for lawmakers to intervene following the recent spate of arrests involving activists, monks and opposition officials.
The group called for the release of the 15 arrested people, including 11 who have already been tried and sentenced to a year in jail, saying they had not committed any crimes but were simply trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
“Please, both parties of the National Assembly, intervene in this case,” Yorm Bopha, a well-known community activist from Boeng Kak, cried out at the protest. “We are all hungry for justice and we want to live in freedom.”
Vann Narith, a CNRP lawmaker who accepted a petition from the protesters on behalf of his party, promised that his party would push the government on human rights issues.
“Even though I encourage our people to retain this culture [of protesting], please don’t create any violence,” he said.
CPP lawmaker Loak Kheng, who also visited the protesters, pledged to take the groups’ concerns to the CPP president of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin.
“The National Assembly will invite Phnom Penh governor [Pa Socheatvong] through [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng to collect all their stories to discuss together to solve these issues for our people,” he said.
U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has condemned the recent wave of arrests, likening the government’s crackdown to “a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
“The Cambodian government’s latest crackdown on peaceful protest makes a mockery of promises of democratic reform,” the organization’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement released Friday.
“The country’s donors should publicly condemn this escalating wave of abuse. Failure to speak out will only encourage the ruling party to further close political space and block any hopes for progress toward a genuine multi-party democracy.”