At Least 12 in Jail For Joining Protest
sihanoukville – Activists on Tuesday decried the continued detention of two Licadho human rights workers, including the coordinator of the Sihanoukville office, who were monitoring protests against a suspected toxic waste dump.
The UN special representative for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, expressed concern that the arrests could “undermine the work of human rights defenders.” Sihanoukville rights activists also claimed that two protesters had been beaten for their participation in the weekend demonstrations. At least 12 protesters were being detained Tuesday on charges of looting and destroying property. Rights workers said they have heard reports of more than two dozen others who may have been arrested.
The arrests are the latest episode in a volatile controversy over the shipment of 3,000 tons of mercury-tainted waste from Taiwan. More than 20 government officials have been suspended amid controversy over the shipment.
Unconfirmed reports that Sihanoukville residents were getting sick from the waste prompted thousands to flee the city and touched off two days of protests that spun out of control Sunday. The day after the protests, Licadho employees Kim Sen and Meas Minear were arrested and accused of leading them.
No warrants were presented when police arrested the pair, human rights groups said. No formal charges have been filed.
Chief Prosecutor Mam Muth said Tuesday he had “hard evidence” showing the workers were “ringleaders” of protests.
Several rights workers said the two Licadho employees were merely advising citizens of their rights and monitoring the protests. Licadho also apparently helped residents draft a petition for the waste to be sent back to Taiwan. The petition was signed by more than 700 residents.
“These arrests send an ominous message about the Cam-bodian government’s commitment to respecting basic human rights, improving its justice system and allowing rights workers to do their jobs,” said a Human Rights Watch Asia representative.
London-based international human rights group Amnesty International has dubbed the pair possible “prisoners of conscience.”
An umbrella group of Cambodian rights organizations, the Human Rights Action Committee, also decried the arrests.
“The Human Rights Action Committee is deeply concerned that the human rights workers are being targeted in an effort to undermine the work of human rights organizations, and [it] calls for their immediate release,” the group said Tuesday.
Authorities at first accused the Licadho employees of joining or leading the demonstrations. That charge has been dropped, but could be resurrected. The two preliminary charges that remain are looting and property damage.
Rights workers who sat in on the preliminary interviews Monday said that the prosecutor indicated there were photographs and possibly audio tapes implicating Licadho. But rights workers stressed that informing people of their rights does not constitute incitement to violence.
Human rights workers also said Tuesday that two protesters had been beaten by police.
An official with Adhoc, a local human rights organization, also said that he has heard from prison detainees that as many as 40 protesters were arrested in all. If so,“we don’t know where the others are,” he said.
Mam Muth said that just 12 protesters had been arrested. The protesters can be held for up to 48 hours without an official detention order but Mam Muth indicated those orders would be issued.
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