All 19 demonstrators detained by police while attempting to protest peacefully Sunday in Phnom Penh were released Monday amid charges of police brutality and a letter of concern from King Norodom Sihanouk.
The Khmer Front Party members and supporters—several of whom were injured by police wielding batons—were released from municipal police headquarters after being held overnight at the terrorism department.
Forced by police to thumbprint agreements to cease all further street protests, the 19 protesters were also photographed holding signs in front of themselves—Chinese Cultural Revolution style—denouncing themselves as people who created “turmoil in society,” according to detainee Phang Vannak.
However, members of the little-known Khmer Front Party—mostly students who hold staunchly nationalistic and anti-CPP sentiments—remained defiant after their release, saying they will continue to exercise their constitutional right to hold public protests.
“The crackdown on the non-violent demonstration, and the arrest of the demonstrators by the authorities, was an abuse of the Constitution and obstructed the democratic process in Cambodia,” the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee wrote in a statement.
“We appeal to the government and authorities at all levels to respect the law…. And, we appeal to the government to punish those police officers who used violence and injured the demonstrators,” CHRAC stated.
King Sihanouk wrote Monday that he was “very worried” by the events.
“I would like the Royal Government and Samdech Hun Sen, who is the excellent leader, to please have pity on these grandchildren so they are free from suffering,” the King wrote in his letter.
In a letter of condemnation issued Monday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights wrote that police officers involved in Sunday’s crackdown went beyond the bounds of the law in their treatment of peaceful protesters.
“We released them all after we educated them not to hold the demonstration without permission,” Deputy Municipal Police Chief Muong Kim said Monday.
The 19 thumbprinted statements said the detained demonstrators agreed not to hold further demonstrations, Muong Kim said. He added that the detainees were held in the terrorism department because there was no room elsewhere at the sprawling headquarters, which dominates a city block.
Muong Kim also said he was unaware of any complaints that police used more force than was necessary on the protesters.
“I will conduct an investigation into police brutality and if we find them, and it is a big case, we will punish them according to the law. But if it is small, we will ask them to sign letters so they will not commit the violence again,” Muong Kim said.
The Khmer Front Party had sought permission from the Phnom Penh Municipality to hold its demonstration in front of the National Assembly against what they say was the CPP’s fraudulent victory in the July 27 election and against border encroachment by the Vietnamese.
It was refused. But the municipality had, however, granted permission to three pro-CPP groups to demonstrate Sunday, including the pro-Hun Sen Pagoda Boys.
Earlier this year, the US State Department fingered the Pagoda Boys as key leaders in the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots, in which $50 million worth of Thai-owned property was destroyed in Phnom Penh.
“The authorities abused our human rights…. This action clearly shows that the government fails to adhere to the democratic process and imitates the communist rule,” Khmer Front Party President Suth Dina said after his release Monday.
Sun Sokunmealea, Khmer Front Party deputy president and one of several women arrested, said she would continue to demonstrate.
“Police forced me to sign a letter not to hold another demonstration without having permission from the authorities,” Sun Sokunmealea said.
“We will hold another demonstration on another topic, but we are not sure when we will hold it,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Kim Chan)