Year in Review

The Cambodia Daily
2014: Looking Back

F

T

L

January 3—Completing a wave of state suppression of garment worker protests, hundreds of military police open fire on a violent demonstration on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street, killing five workers and injuring more than 40. More than 20 workers are imprisoned on a raft of charges related to protests on Veng Sreng and in front of the Yakjin garment factory in Phnom Penh on January 2 and found guilty in a May trial but have their sentences suspended and are released. Despite local and international condemnation of the disproportionate use of force by military police, no officers face any punishment for the shootings.

Read more
January 16—Rithy Panh’s “The Missing Picture” becomes the first Cambodian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. The partially animated documentary about the director’s experiences under the Khmer Rouge competes against four feature films in the best foreign-language film category. The Oscar eventually goes to Italian director Paulo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” in March.

Read more
February 5—A test run of a new public transportation service in Phnom Penh commences, with 10 buses running along Moni-vong Boulevard. The service now has three lines and 43 buses—with plans to create seven more lines in 2015—but has been beset by financial troubles since the Chinese company awarded the contract to operate the buses pulled out of the deal. City Hall is still searching for a private firm to take over the service.

Read more
April 11—Thirteen members of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), including six being tried in absentia, are found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to between five and nine years in prison. Human rights groups denounce the verdict against members of the KNLF—which Prime Minister Hun Sen has labeled a terrorist group—as politically motivated and based on scant evidence and forced testimony. In October, another 10 alleged members of the group, whose leader Sam Serey lives in Denmark, are arrested for plotting to incite violence during a two-day police operation in Phnom Penh and remain in provisional detention.

Read more
April 19—A leaked copy of a draft cybercrime law reveals the government’s intent to punish people who publish content online that “hinder[s] the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” In the months that follow, the government arrests five hackers from the local arm of the global hacking group Anonymous for attacking government and pro-government websites. On December 9, the government admits that it has plans to install “listening equipment” on the networks of mobile phone operators and Internet service providers, after it was revealed that Interior Ministry officials quietly inspected the firms’ routers, billing records and data logs in October.

Read more
May 27—Prominent anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam steps down from her eponymous foundation after finding herself at the center of international controversy when her backstory as a sex slave is exposed as a fabrication and it is revealed that she coached young women in her care to lie about their own pasts in order to solicit donations. The Somaly Mam Foundation then closes down in September. In the same month, Ms. Mam begins denying the allegations in media interviews and starts working with a handful of supporters to resurrect her image—and revive funding for her cause.

Read more
June 15—A mass exodus of Cambodian migrant workers from Thailand peaks as some 40,000 laborers cross back into the country through the Poipet border checkpoint in a single day. In all, more than 240,000 Cambodians flee Thailand in June amid fears of the new military government’s crackdown on illegal migrant workers. In the ensuing months, Thailand sets up one-stop centers in provinces along the Cambodian border to register migrants to legally return to work in the country. Following the exodus, Cambodia’s government revises its estimate of the number of citizens working in Thailand, placing the figure above 700,000, or some 5 percent of the country’s total population.

Read more
June 30—In a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the $200-million Aeon Mall officially opens in Phnom Penh, becoming the largest shopping center in the country and bringing a slew of new global brands to the capital’s growing consumer class. Operated by Japanese retail giant Aeon Co. Ltd., the mall boasts nearly 200 shops, an ice-skating rink, a bowling alley and a seven-screen Cineplex.

Read more
August 3—Reform-minded Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron brings in Anti-Corruption Unit officials and some 2,000 proctors to oversee the national high-school exam, which has for years been rife with cheating and bribery. Under the stricter conditions, just a quarter of students pass, but a second-chance exam on October 12 for those who failed brings the final pass rate up to 40 percent.

Read more
August 7—The nearly three-yearlong trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan finally comes to an end, with the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Trial Chamber finding the elderly pair guilty of crimes against humanity and sentencing them to life in prison. The verdict is a long-awaited partial triumph for the court, which has spent more than $230 million since starting up in 2006, but still only covers a small fraction of the crimes that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan stand accused of, due to the judges’ decision to split the trial into multiple phases. After a monthslong boycott by Khieu Samphan’s lawyers, the second and more expansive phase of the trial is scheduled to start in January with hearings on forced labor in the Tram Kak cooperatives in Takeo province.

Read more
August 24—The Interior Ministry’s newly created immigration department, headed by General Sok Phal, launches a nationwide census of foreigners living in the country, leading to the deportation of hundreds of foreign nationals, mainly Vietnamese. According to the immigration department, 1,246 foreigners from 29 countries have been arrested since the census began, including 1,001 Vietnamese, some 80 Chinese and more than a dozen Bangladeshis, North Koreans and Nigerians. The Interior Ministry says that it will use the census to enforce long-standing laws requiring foreigners working in the country to hold work permits.

Read more
September 26—After months of secret negotiations, Cambodia signs off on a deal with Australia agreeing to resettle some of the hundreds of refugees its Asian neighbor is holding offshore on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru. The agreement leaves it up to Cambodia to decide how many of the refugees it will take in, but commits Australia to lavishing an additional $35 million in aid on the country over the next four years. The deal is blasted by rights groups and opposition lawmakers in both countries, as well as the U.N., which accuses Australia of shirking its international obligations for the asylum seekers and seeking to hand them off to one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the region.

Read more
October 3—Taekwondo star Sorn Seavmey wins Cambodia’s first-ever Asian Games gold medal after defeating athletes from Iran, Uzbekistan and the Philippines in the women’s under-73-kg category at the 17th Asian Games in South Korea. The 19-year-old returns a national hero and is showered with gifts by Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni.

Read more
November 5—The Water Festival returns to Phnom Penh. Thousands of people stream into the capital to watch the boat races for the first time since 353 revelers were killed in a stampede at the end of the festival in 2010.

Read more
November 10—Seven anti-eviction activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community are arrested for dragging a bed frame onto Monivong Boulevard in front of City Hall to protest flooding in their neighborhood. The detention of the seven—who are charged with blocking traffic the next day then immediately convicted and sentenced to a year in prison—is followed by a wave of arrests over the next week in which activists, monks and opposition figures are jailed on charges decried by human rights groups as politically motivated.

Read more
November 12—The Labor Ministry raises the minimum wage in the garment sector from $100 to $128, ending months of tough negotiations between the factories and activist unions. The raise leaves some unions unsatisfied but is enough to stave off the nationwide strikes that briefly crippled the $5.5-billion industry in late 2013. The factories warn that the raise could force dozens of them to leave the country, which would put tens of thousands of people out of work.

Read more
November 24—Police in Ratanakkiri province say they are searching for 13 Montagnards­—an indigenous group concentrated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands—who are hiding in the forests of northeastern province. In interviews in Lumphat district later that week, the group says it is seeking asylum in Cambodia after fleeing religious and political persecution by the Vietnamese government. A U.N. delegation attempting to reach the group in order to have them processed as refugees in Phnom Penh is blocked by local authorities on three occasions. On December 21, the U.N. finally meets with the Montagnards and transfers them to the capital, where they are currently being questioned by the Interior Ministry’s refugee department.

Read more
December 16—Local officials in Battambang province’s Roka commune reveal that more than 100 residents have tested positive for HIV in a single week, sparking a public health panic that continues to confound experts. Yem Chrin, an unlicensed doctor who regularly used injections to treat villagers and admitted to reusing syringes, is charged with murder in connection with the outbreak, the cause of which is still being probed by health agencies. To date, more than 200 people in the commune have tested positive for the virus.

Read more