Family members of detained opposition activists holding a protest in of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court were violently dispersed by the court’s security guards, according to members of the group.
Friday’s rally marked the sixth protest organized by the family members—the previous five of which featured police officers confiscating or destroying banners and ordering the crowd to disband.
The rally is in support of the seventeen Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists who have been held in pretrial detention at Prey Sar Prison on charges of “incitement to commit a felony” since early this year after voicing views critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership.
Rights group said the accusations against the CNRP members represent restrictions on their freedom of expression.
Prumh Chantha, the wife of one of the activists, told RFA’s Khmer Service that this time around 30 of the court’s security guards aggressively dragged the protesters away from the building on the ground, leaving at least five of them injured with cuts and bruises.
Prumh Chantha was among those injured. She said four guards pulled her from the court’s fence so violently that she can barely walk and has been receiving medical care through local rights group Licadho.
“We want their freedom returned to them,” she said.
“We are all Khmer people, but these men violently attacked unarmed women. [The guards] abused us and dragged us by our feet, as if we were animals.”
After leaving the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the group marched to the British Embassy, where five representatives were permitted to enter and present petitions to staff calling for an intervention in the cases of their loved ones.
Speaking to RFA, Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet rejected claims of police brutality during the protest.
“I advised the authorities not to provoke violence against our citizens,” he said, adding that police officers did not drag any women away from the court’s fence.
“The guards took pictures as evidence. Their allegations are not true.”
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of Licadho’s Human Rights Investigation Team, called Friday’s action an abuse of the freedom of expression and said that in a democracy, people should have the right to peaceful protests.
“I urge the authorities not to use any violence against any demonstrations, regardless of whether organizers have asked for permission, to avoid further criticism,” he said.
Friday’s protest came as Cambodia’s Appeals Court denied a bail request for CNRP activists Sun Thun and Peat Mab, who were arrested by authorities on charges of incitement and treason for supporting the repatriation of CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy.
The CNRP was disbanded by the Supreme Court in November 2017 for its alleged role in a plot to overthrow the government.
Sam Rainsy is living in self-imposed exile in France to avoid a string of charges and convictions he says are politically motivated.
The actions over the CNRP activists’ detention came as CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua called on Hun Sen to end impunity in Cambodia, where rights campaigners say that the prime minister’s political cronies and the wealthy benefit from a justice system that is aligned with their interests. (Source: RFA)