« | Home | »

In Phnom Penh

Tags:

In Cambodia there is no right to freedom of assembly. On 4 January, the interior ministry issued a statement banning all demonstrations and marches. It isn’t clear what counts as a march. Rumours spread that any gathering of more than ten people in Phnom Penh would be broken up and the participants arrested. The ban came after weeks of strikes and protests by garment workers calling for higher wages and improved working conditions. At the moment they earn around £2 a day.

On 3 January the protests turned deadly: workers throwing stones were met with live rounds fired by soldiers from Brigade 911, which has a history of violently repressing enemies of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Five people were killed, many more injured and 23 arrested, including a prominent trade unionist. Their families weren’t told where they were being held and they were denied access to lawyers. Another union leader was arrested on 19 January.

On 4 January, supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – who had been staging their own protests following the unfair elections in July 2013 – were told they would no longer be able to demonstrate and the party leaders were summoned for questioning at the Court of First Instance in the capital.

The ban has been tested. Activists angry at a development project on grabbed land were briefly detained on 6 January. I saw the same land activists get arrested on 21 January as they were trying to petition embassies of donor countries.

Even the smallest gatherings are being targeted. I went along to Freedom Park – a space created in 2010 for the purpose of holding rallies – on 9 January. A dozen youth activists had gathered to sing songs about non-violence. Everybody was shooed out of the park by baton-wielding security guards in motorcycle helmets and military police armed with AK-47s.

Yesterday, when people tried to enter Freedom Park to demand higher wages and the release of the 23 detained two weeks ago, military police stopped them. This morning, 10 supporters of the radio station owner and government critic Mam Sonando – who was jailed on trumped up charges in 2012 – were beaten by military police and security guards.

Tomorrow, the government is set to have its Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. At the last round it accepted all 91 recommendations but did little to implement them. There is no indication that it will be more committed this time: it submitted its report late and is sending a low-level delegation to Switzerland.

On 20 January, the prime minister, Hun Sen, in power since 1985, called on his supporters to ‘be ready to oppose all acts that lack responsibility and have the characteristics of a coup’. A coup seems unlikely, but people are fed up of being ignored. The question now is whether the government’s use of violence at assemblies is enough to deter opposition supporters and unions from gathering en masse to push their demands. The atmosphere is tense and there are no signs that the ban will end any time soon.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement