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.