There were ugly scenes on Friday at Phnom Penh’s hill-temple Wat Phnom when district security guards scuffled, shouted abuse and punched a group of mostly women and monks who had gathered to hold a memorial ceremony for Mao Sok Chan—the 29-year-old man shot dead by police during last month’s clash near Monivong Bridge.
A couple of dozen Daun Penh district security guards, backed up by numerous undercover police, destroyed offerings of jasmine and lotus flowers that the ceremony’s organizers had brought to Wat Phnom.
Insults were shouted between participants in the suppressed ceremony and the security guards, which escalated to punches thrown by the guards, slightly injuring several people including a 13-year-old boy, who was struck in the chest, a 67-year-old woman punched in the mouth, and well-known anti-eviction activist Tep Vanny, who sustained bruising after suffering a blow to the forehead.
“We cannot allow them to hold the ceremony there [at Wat Phnom] because they did not have permission from City Hall,” Daun Penh district security chief Kim Vutha said.
Despite journalists witnessing the rough tactics by security guards against monks and other ceremony participants, Mr. Vutha denied his staff was responsible for any violence.
“We did not beat the youths and the people. I do not recognize [this claim], because they jumped in to beat my officers first, and they were just practicing self-defense,” he said.
Local human rights group Adhoc issued a statement deploring the conduct of the district authorities.
“Protesters and the Daun Penh security forces swapped insults before the Daun Penh security forces, together with thugs dressed in civilian clothes, used violence against the protesters,” Adhoc said in the statement.
“Adhoc reminds the authorities to respect their national and international legal commitments regarding expressive rights.”
Mao Sok Chan died on the night of September 15 when police or military police opened fire as a group of young men threw stones following an eruption of frustration over severe traffic congestion caused by security roadblocks near Monivong Bridge. The shooting ended the first day of a mostly peaceful mass protest by opposition party supporters.
Relatives of the slain man, a father of four young children, said he was a bystander to the confrontation at Kbal Thnol when he was killed. Several other young men sustained gunshot wounds. In the weeks since the killing of Mao Sok Chan, police have not conducted a serious investigation into his death.
After security guards tore up the offerings of flowers and scattered them on the ground at Wat Phnom, the group of around a dozen monks and twice as many ceremony participants moved to the garden in front of the U.S. Embassy, where they conducted a brief memorial to Mao Sok Chan unmolested by local authorities.
“The people are just expressing their ideas, but they used violence against the people and monks,” said Venerable Bun Buntinh, who led the prayer ceremony in front of the embassy.
Heng Samnang, a 20-year-old student at the National University of Management who took part in the suppressed ceremony, said the violence used by the district officials was unacceptable, and called into question the very nature of Cambodia as a democracy.
“As a young person, and like any citizen, I think that they should not use violence against us. I want to ask the leaders of the government whether our country is led by communists or democrats,” Mr. Samnang said.
“They have banned us from holding our ceremony at Wat Phnom, which is a public place for all the people.”
Later on Friday afternoon, five students who took part in the memorial ceremony delivered a letter to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court demanding that its legal officers conduct a professional investigation into the killing of Mao Sok Chan.