Environmental watchdogs and a human rights group are warning that harassment of community forestry groups in remote provinces is continuing after a violent confrontation between police and activists in Phnom Penh last month.
Intruders ransacked an environmental activist’s office in Kratie province early last month before police interrogated the office director about her staff and family, according to the US-based Human Rights Watch.
Forestry sector aid workers in Phnom Penh said Thursday that they have also heard reports from Mondolkiri province that some villagers in forest-dependent communities have been ordered to write detailed family histories.
The incidents have stoked fears of a broader campaign of government harassment of villagers and community leaders in forest dependent communities following a Dec 5 protest at the Department of Forestry.
The protesters were demanding to meet with Forestry Department officials to learn what private logging companies had planned for their homelands when they were chased from the department’s Norodom Boulevard offices by riot police.
Witnesses and the UN Human Rights office have alleged the protesters were kicked and beaten with electric batons. Seven people required medical help after the police crackdown.
In a statement issued last week, Human Rights Watch said the government appears to have chased down individuals who were involved in the Dec 5 meeting and returned to the provinces.
DFW and other forestry officials have questioned community forestry advocates in Kratie, Kompong Thom, Stung Treng, Mondolkiri and Preah Vihear provinces about their activities in Phnom Penh, according to the statement.
In several provinces, the statement continued, villagers have been pressured into thumbprinting documents they cannot read, expressing support for the logging concessions.
Even more disturbing to rights workers was a break-in at the offices of the Setrey Santepheap Daembei Parenthan (Peaceful Women for the Environment), a grassroots environmental organization in Kratie, while office staff were in Phnom Penh.
Two boxes of files, maps, photographs, video equipment and a television were stolen. On Dec 17, some 18 policemen accompanied by a forestry official, arrived to make a appointment with the organization’s director. The following day, the police interrogated the director for an entire day, asking her questions not about the break-in but about the staff, the organization and what they had been doing in Phnom Penh, according to Human Rights Watch.
Detailed biographical data was also recorded about the director and her family, the group claimed.
Meanwhile, a prakas issued from the Ministry of Interior last week asking for all NGOs operating in Cambodia to register has added to concerns that outspoken aid officials are under fire.
More than 50 NGO officials met at the offices of Star Kampuchea to discuss the prakas last week.