Tension Builds Before Next ‘Black Monday’

Security forces including riot police were deployed to Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood on Tuesday to keep a watchful eye over activists in the area, as rights groups, undeterred by arrests of eight protesters on “Black Monday,” began planning next week’s demonstration.

Those arrested on Monday included a Borei Keila activist and three women from the Boeng Kak neighborhood who dressed in black and joined the protest against the imprisonment of rights workers and an election official for their alleged roles in an escalating political sex scandal.

Chhay Kimhorn, 39, a land rights activist from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood, said armed security guards and riot police descended on the community on Tuesday, warning them against wearing the color black.

“This morning I saw about 30 security guards in two trucks come to have a look at our community, and then 30 more riot police with shields and batons also came here,” Ms. Kimhorn said.

Mean Chanyada, City Hall’s director of administration, confirmed that forces had been ordered to “observe the activities” of Borei Keila residents following Monday’s arrests.

“We never restrict their daily life but we went down just to observe …the general public order,” Mr. Chanyada said.

“If they live like normal people and have no bad intentions, they should not be worried,” he said, adding that only those with plans to partake in the next “Black Monday” were creating “worry [for] themselves.”

The official then warned of the turmoil that could engulf society if the peaceful protests were allowed to go ahead, echoing a warning issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the morning.

“Actually, the authorities are the ones who implemented the law, and we know this movement will cause turmoil, insecurity and disorder in our Cambodian society,” Mr. Chanyada said.

Despite the arrests and intimidation, human rights officials and activists vowed on Tuesday to return to Prey Sar next Monday.

“Yes, LICADHO and partners intend to continue campaigning for the release of 5 [human rights] defenders and other activists despite ongoing threats,” Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group, said in an email.

But Buntenh, a dissident monk who was blocked on Monday from marching to Prey Sar prison, where four officers for rights group Adhoc have been jailed, said he would return and branded the government’s behavior “atrocious.”

“People are mobilizing and getting ready for protesting. I am always there,” But Buntenh said, adding that the government’s attack on civil society would only bring more activists onto the streets.

“I think the more the government arrests us, the more [people] will participate because people are angry with that atrocious act to us. We are living in this atrocious society for very long so we do not wish to see it anymore,” he said.

Ee Sarom, executive director of housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, and Thav Kimsan, deputy director of advocacy for rights group Licadho, were the first to be detained on Monday as police set up checkpoints on roads surrounding the prison.

The three protesters from Boeng Kak—Bou Sorphea, Kong Chantha and Song Sreyleap—and Sor Son from Borei Keila were arrested in Dangkao and Daun Penh districts soon after.

Mathias Pfeifer, a German adviser to local rights group Licadho, and Anna Maria Pettersson, a Swedish adviser for the group, were arrested and taken to the Interior Ministry’s immigration department later in the morning for wearing black T-shirts and failing to produce their passports at the Dangkao district police station.

All were released in the early evening.

Ms. Sreyleap, one of the Boeng Kak activists detained on Monday, said she would not be cowed by the government’s intimidation.

“We are the victims who got injustice like them,” she said, in reference to the jailed human rights workers. “We have the intention to join the protest to free them.”

Mr. Sarom, however, said it was not clear whether he would join the protest following his release.

“Right now we are not sure yet …. Also it’s up to the families of those five people. We should leave this to them and what is their next plan,” Mr. Sarom said.

The latest arrests come as the government ramps up its investigation into a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. The four Adhoc officials, together with National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, were jailed last week for allegedly conspiring to bribe the 25-year-old supposed mistress to deny the affair.

A U.N. official was also charged in absentia over the case, while an opposition commune chief was imprisoned for allegedly delivering money to the alleged mistress’ mother. Mr. Sokha and two other opposition lawmakers have been summoned to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning over the scandal.

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