Five peaceful protesters were arrested Monday morning in Phnom Penh as they waited to join fellow activists for the second round of a “Black Monday” campaign calling for the release of four human rights workers and an election official imprisoned earlier this month.
The five women, all land rights activists from eviction-hit communities in the capital, attempted to gather near Chenla Theater at about 8 a.m. but were met by police in riot gear who informed them that their protest would not be allowed to proceed.
After a brief argument with police, the women began walking down Monireth Boulevard. Minutes later, Tuol Kok district security guards arrived in two trucks and the women were pushed kicking and screaming onto one of the vehicles before being taken to the district police station.
“This is a true injustice,” said Chray Nim, one of the women, as she was being forced onto the truck bed. “The whole world is watching.”
Deputy Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng, however, said the women were simply “invited” for questioning by police.
“We did not detain them. We have just invited them for questioning at Tuol Kok district police station. There were three, four to five people wearing black shirts and holding banners,” Mr. Sreng said, declining to comment further.
More than 20 protesters had gathered in front of the police station by about 10 a.m. calling for the release of the women–Ms. Nim, Yin Srin, Ngov Nary, Im Sreytouch and Phok Sophin.
The latest arrests follow eight arrests of human rights workers and activists last Monday for the same offense–wearing black shirts and attempting to protest for the release of the four officers from human rights group Adhoc and a former officer of the NGO who is now a senior election official.
The protesters from last week, a group that included two senior NGO officers and two foreign rights workers, were all released on the same day of their arrest.
The four Adhoc officers and the election official, along with a U.N. employee, were charged with bribery over their alleged role in a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. Human rights groups have blasted the case as a blatant attempt by the ruling CPP to silence its critics.
A spokesman for the ruling party has sued a political analyst over similar claims, and Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials have said they will not tolerate the “Black Monday” protests because they threaten social stability.
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