Student Protest Forced Inside

In the face of police presence, students planning to perform a ser­ies of plays protesting government civil liberties restrictions in front of the National Assembly re­treated to the Tuol Kok office of the Stu­dent’s Movement for De­m­ocracy Thursday. About 30 students from several Phnom Penh universities performed their plays in the of­fice, rather than risk the ha­rassment and arrests that have ac­companied re­cent protests, they said.

“We did not hold any demonstration across from the National Assembly because the policemen were there and we dare not go against them because they are not lenient,” SMD President Pang Sokhoeun said. Some 30 municipal police officers were stationed outside the Assembly Thursday. One officer told a reporter they had “come to maintain security.”

Inside the organization’s office, the students began with a reenactment of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh signing a new coalition deal. As the ac­tors shook hands on the agreement, another actor wore a sign saying: “Cambodia has full demo­cracy,” with his mouth taped and his hands handcuffed behind him.

Another play dramatized recent police crackdowns on peaceful stu­dent protests, while others represented corruption and government harassment of journalists and human rights workers.

NGOs and opposition lawmakers have condemned the government’s ban on protests. A statement issued Tuesday by Star Kampuchea called the Aug­ust crackdown, in which police ar­rested and reportedly beat acti­vists protesting high gasoline pri­ces, “extremely barbarous and non-hu­man­itarian acts.” The Cam­bodian Center for Hu­man Rights issued a statement Wednesday cri­ti­cizing the detention of journalists and rights workers in an eviction Tues­day of Poipet villa­gers con­victed of grabbing Ru­ral De­­velopment Minister Lu Lay­sreng’s land.

Also Wednesday, a group of Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians questioned the legality of re­cent crackdowns in a letter to the Constitutional Council, saying the law used to justify the crackdowns predates the 1993 Constitution and contradicts guarantees of freedom of expression and assembly.

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