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Opposition Rallies and Public Gatherings Now Banned in Cambodia

Civilians wearing red arm bands joined the police in dispersing the crowd gathered inside the Phnom Penh Freedom Park. Photo from Licadho.

Civilians wearing red arm bands joined the police in dispersing the crowd gathered inside the Phnom Penh Freedom Park. Photo from Licadho.

After the violent dispersal of striking garment workers, the government of Cambodia has banned the political opposition from staging more rallies in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. Even the gathering of two persons in the streets is now prohibited.

Four people died yesterday and dozens were injured after police opened fire at garment workers who have been demanding a monthly minimum wage of $160. Currently, garment workers receive $80 a month.

Workers got the support of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party which vowed to raise wages if it assumed power in the country. The opposition has been holding daily protests at the Phnom Penh Freedom Park, also known as Democracy Plaza, to press for the ouster of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen which has been accused of manipulating this year’s election results. The opposition has boycotted the parliament sessions even though it has 55 seats.

The opposition was able to gather tens of thousands in the streets since December. The protest was the biggest anti-government rally in Cambodia in recent years.

Today, the protest camp has been forcibly removed by government forces. The local government said the opposition’s protest permit was cancelled because of security issue.

Licadho, a human rights group, described how the protesters were dispersed from the Freedom Park:

The violence began at around 11.00 this morning when hundreds of police and military police blocked roads surrounding Freedom Park and rapidly and without warning moved in to clear the park of protesters. As they approached, the residing protesters, many of whom were monks or women with their children fled in fear leaving behind their belongings. The forces were accompanied by hundreds of thuggish civilians wearing red arm bands who used metre-long steel poles to beat and intimidate the peaceful protesters

Licadho’s report about the street patrolling of uniformed officials accompanied by civilians wearing red arm bands was echoed by Ruom:

On January 4th, seemingly intent on preventing any further protest, police surrounded Freedom Park, the major rallying point for the Cambodian National Rescue Party – the main opposition party. Uniformed officers and plain clothed citizens, armed with wooden rods and pieces of rebar, forced CNRP supporters – largely comprised of rural seniors – out of the park. For the next hour they destroyed the tents and stage that had been host to rallies since October

Twitter reports also verify the brutal protest crackdown which the government ordered today:

Even journalists were attacked by thugs in the streets:

Ou Virak of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights is angered by today’s event and warns against more violence coming from the state:

…the time for free speech is over. The events that have taken place over the past several days are a major step backwards for Cambodia in terms of democracy and human rights.

The opposition CNRP announced that it will cancel a scheduled rally on Sunday because of the crackdown but it condemned the government repression including the reported issuance of arrest warrants against its leaders.

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