Sen Sok district police in Phnom Penh on Thursday broke up a memorial ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of a crackdown on a protest on the capital’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in 2014 that ended in violence.
Civil society organisations, human rights activists, victims and their relatives holding the memorial said they had been discriminated against by the authorities.
The ceremony was held with the slogan “We Will Never Forget January 3, 2014”, marking the day of the crackdown on a protest by Yakjin garment workers outside the factory on Veng Sreng Boulevard. Four protesters were killed, while the body of a fifth, a teenage boy, is yet to be found.
Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) director Vorn Pov told The Post on Thursday that Sen Sok police removed their marquee on Thursday morning, saying the erection of such tents affected social order.
The organisers said they did not notify Sen Sok district authorities of the ceremony. But Pov said he received permission from O’Bek Ka’am village, while he claimed authorities never said whether or not the memorial was permitted.
“We wanted to remember the tragic event that happened five years ago and pray for the victims who died in 2014. We will still continue with the memorial even though the authorities removed our marquee,” Pov said.
Sen Sok district governor Mov Manith told The Post on Thursday that police removed the marquee because it had been erected on a public road, thus interfering with traffic, without the authorities being informed.
“[The action] was taken because he put up a marquee in a public area which blocked traffic, while they did not ask permission from the district authority."
“When the authority saw the marquee in the morning, we asked them to remove the tent themselves. But they defied our orders, so the authority personally removed it,” Manith said.
Theng Savoeun, Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC) director, said the authority had not acted fairly, given that it allows people to erect marquees to celebrate religious ceremonies.
Savoeun said the event was intended to remind people of the police crackdown in 2014 and to prevent this kind of event from happening again. He said that for five years he had been labelled a “convict” which he called “unfair”.
Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey could not be reached for comment.
Soeung Sen Karuna, the spokesman at rights group Adhoc, told The Post that the local authority acted contrary to the Ministry of Interior’s policy that all municipal and provincial authorities should guarantee the freedoms of civil organisations that register with them.
“The way they have implemented the law seems like a violation of the law. This type of law enforcement reveals that the authority has two standards. People are allowed to conduct religious events, but when a civil society group organises [an event] it was not allowed. It seems unfair,” he said.
Sen Karuna said the government should be responsible for the events of 2014 because its police conducted the crackdown. He said the government does not want to remember and admit accountability for the case.
On January 2-3, 2014, there were two crackdowns on human rights activists and garment workers. One incident occurred at the Yakjin garment factory, while the other happened on Veng Sreng Boulevard, where workers were demanding an increase to the minimum wage to $160 per month and that employers obey labour laws.
Twenty-three people were detained in Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province for their roles in the protest.