Riot police and groups of men in plain clothes armed with sticks, Tasers and slingshots violently attacked a group of anti-eviction protesters conducting a hunger strike at Wat Phnom late last night, injuring several people.
Protesters from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community began the hunger strike Sunday morning against a decision by the government to convene the opening session of the National Assembly despite contested election results. But shortly before 11 p.m., riot police and men with no uniform—some wearing face masks—stormed the group, which was already leaving the area to go home, according to witnesses.
Several reporters and photographers at the scene were struck with Tasers, batons and marbles fired from slingshots by the plainclothes men. Prior to the attack, all the lighting around Wat Phnom was shut off.
Shortly before midnight, a truck with about 20 mostly young men wearing face masks and carrying batons, was seen leaving Wat Phnom and driving into the Daun Penh district offices.
“They started to disperse violently the people from Wat Phnom, at which point people started to run toward the post office,” said a rights worker with Licadho, who was present at the scene.
“These thugs were breaking flashlights and private property of the peaceful protesters right next to military police and riot police who were doing nothing except keeping observers out.”
“The thugs were moving in groups mixed with police, that was crystal clear…. It was clear that thugs were hired to do the dirty job under the eyes of mixed groups of police and military police who stood by,” the rights worker said, adding that the move by police was “a totally unjustified use of violence.”
Several people injured at the scene were taken to Calmette Hospital to receive treatment while others went to private clinics in order clean their wounds.
The violence comes as King Norodom Sihamoni is scheduled to open the National Assembly today. Civil society groups and hundreds of monks have lobbied King Sihamoni over the past week not to open parliament until leaders of the country’s ruling and opposition parties have reached a solution to breach the present political deadlock.
National police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith could not be reached for comment.