By Mech Dara, The Cambodia Daily, March 7 2014
In yet another case of district security guards assuming the role of police officers, three evictees of the capital’s Boeung Kak lake area were detained in the capital yesterday morning and taken to a police station.
Daun Penh district security guards seized Em Srey Touch, 41, Sia Nareth, 56, and Sath Pha, 40, as they gathered with a group of about 10 former Boeung Kak villagers demanding more compensation outside Phnom Penh’s City Hall.
“The guards arrested me while I was getting off a tuk-tuk in order to try to meet with [Phnom Penh governor] Pa Socheatvong,” Srey Touch said.
The three were taken to Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters, questioned and released later without charge.
After the three were detained, about 50 protesters gathered outside the police station demanding their release, which came after each of them agreed to ink all 10 fingers and thumbs on a document containing details of their interviews.
The increase in security guards working for the Phnom Penh municipality or the districts over which it presides has been noticeable this year as men in non-descript clothing, often wearing motorcycle helmets, have forcibly detained or clashed with protesters.
In late January, City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said many of those guards had received no government security training and were detaining people as civilian “public order” officers.
Dimanche said yesterday that the three protesters had been targeted as a way of preventing traffic delays along Monivong Boulevard, where City Hall is situated.
“The arrest is just advice to them since they tried to block the road,” he said. “This can lead to traffic congestion and social disorder.”
The protesters are part of a group of villagers who accepted compensation some years ago to leave their homes at Boeung Kak after the ruling Cambodian People’s Party awarded the area to a company owned by its senator Lao Meng Khin.
Those detained yesterday said their families had accepted $8,500 in compensation after Meng Khin’s company, Shukaku, had flooded their homes with sand and put pressure on them to vacate.
That compensation, however, has not been enough for them to establish new homes of an equivalent standard and many have since fallen into debt, they say.
Defense attorneys will now turn to the Supreme Court after a Court of Appeals judge denied bail this morning for all 21 people still detained from clashes with authorities during garment strike demonstrations last month.
The presiding judge said he decided not to allow bail based on speculation that the detainees’ release would “disturb public order”, Sam Sokung, a defense attorney representing six of the defendants, said outside the courtroom minutes after the decision.
“We are shocked,” said Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center, which also provided legal representation for some of the defendants. “There was not enough grounds to keep them in prison.”
Weeping in front of the courtroom after the decision was announced, were the wife, two sons and daughter of Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), who was arrested at a demonstration in front of the Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc. garment factory on January 2.
Guards at the court shut the gates to keep out about 200 people gathered outside from coming in, after land rights activist Yorm Bopha rushed into the courtroom complex after hearing the decision, falling to the ground and wailing next to Pov’s family.
Minutes before the decision came, rumors buzzed through the crowd of union activists, NGO workers and other supporters on site that a large majority of the detained men would be released today. Based on their attorneys’ take on the situation, Tola also believed this until the ruling.
“I hoped this morning that at least 18 people would be released today,” Tola said. “If the court is really independent, they should be released.”
Across the street from the courthouse, Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union – the largest union behind the strike, which was suspended after deadly clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard January 3 – said he was equally surprised.
Tomorrow, eight union groups will meet to discuss how to go about reigniting the strike, Thorn said.
“It’s not only about these 21 [detainees],” he said. “Wage negotiations are also important.”