Scores of military and intervention police swung rubber truncheons and electric batons to halt the advance of some 25 peaceful protesters as they attempted to march to the National Assembly on Sunday morning.
Protected inside flak jackets, steel helmets and brandishing riot shields, the police officers were unsparing in the battering dealt out to the group of mostly teenage members of the Khmer Front Party, who were surrounded on Norodom Boulevard outside the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Denied permission last week to hold their protest Sunday, the small group of party supporters was attempting to walk to the Assembly to protest alleged encroachment on Cambodian territory by Vietnam and Thailand and the CPP victory in July’s general election.
Their route blocked on Norodom Boulevard, the group of young males and females huddled in a small circle and unfurled cardboard posters, which quickly prompted the first wave of military police officers to descend with batons.
At least one of the protesters suffered a gash to the head.
Wailing sirens signaled a second wave of intervention police officers, who made a boisterous arrival by truck and herded the group of protesters down Street 136 and into a side street, which was then blocked at either end.
Protesters carrying or wearing Cambodian flags were made to hand them over to police before they were forced onto the back of a waiting police truck.
Nineteen protesters, including Khmer Front Party President Suth Dina and Deputy President Sun Sokunmealea, were trucked to the nearby municipal police headquarters.
Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Muong Kim denied that officers used excessive force and said the protesters were only slightly injured. They also were not under arrest but had been “invited” for questioning, Muong Kim maintained.
“This is the minor injury. We can’t avoid this kind of challenge. Police were also slightly injured. Some lost buttons off their shirts,” Muong Kim said.
Muong Kim could not say when the 19 would be released.
The Phnom Penh Municipality released a statement Sunday claiming the two dozen protesters had “created disorder and chaos.”
“The above-mentioned acts not only affect the public order, but also disturb the daily life of our people,” the municipality said.
The Municipal Authority “continues to carry out its tasks thoroughly on the basis of law and regulations in force and especially in accordance with the democratic principles,” the statement added.
Hundreds of riot police were deployed at the Assembly to prevent the protest by the Khmer Front Party, which claims that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s election victory was obtained through vote-buying and other election irregularities.
In contrast, a planned Sunday demonstration by three pro-CPP groups, apparently to celebrate Hun Sen’s election victory, received the municipality’s permission Friday.
The most prominent among the groups were the Pagoda Boys, a group fingered earlier this year by the US State Department as being key instigators of the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots.
Funded by the CPP and not adverse to using violence, the Pagoda Boys specialize in holding pro-Hun Sen demonstrations to counter anti-Hun Sen or anti-CPP protests.
With no demonstration to counter, there was no sign of the Pagoda Boys on Sunday morning, though group leaders said they did not gather because they did not have permission from authorities.
“We always adhere to the law so we wait until we receive the permission then we will hold a demonstration,” Pagoda Boys’ Deputy Secretary-General Rong To said Sunday.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said Friday that he had given the pro-CPP groups permission to hold a demonstration.
Also Sunday morning, several hundred inhabitants of the Bassac-area squatter community were gathered on the grounds of the Bassac Theater near Hun Sen park, a short walk from the Assembly.
The group of several hundred—made up of mostly young men and teenagers—were given bottles of water and, allegedly, money by overseers in civilian clothes who were carrying hand-held radios.
Asked to identify themselves and the reason for the large gathering, the overseers said they knew nothing and walked away.
“We gathered here to support the CPP and Samdech Hun Sen as the prime minister. We don’t march through the streets because we don’t hold the demonstration, we just sit and chat to express our support,” said Tonle Bassac resident Ros Pov, 38.
Ros Pov denied she or others were paid money to gather for a counterdemonstration.
The Khmer Front Party issued a statement Sunday evening condemning the brutality meted out to their members and called for intervention from the international community.
With the CPP confirmed on Saturday as the official winners of the July election, police, military and military police commanders swore their allegiance—and that of their rank and file—to Hun Sen.
“The commander in chief will take the necessary measures in order to protect the political stability, public order and the people’s harmonious living standard,” RCAF Commander in Chief Ke Kim Yan said in a statement read on Apsara radio Sunday.