Five land rights activists from the former Boeng Kak lake community, on their way to deliver a petition to the French Embassy on Monday morning, were forced into a van by municipal security forces, taken to Phnom Penh police headquarters and detained for more than eight hours before being released without charge.
The detentions come just days after the government cleared out an opposition protest camp and announced that freedom of assembly would be suspended indefinitely claiming the CNRP was inciting social disorder.
At about 8 a.m., witnesses said, a group of six women on Monivong Boulevard, including well-known activists Tep Vanny and Yorm Bopha, were surrounded by more than 40 plain-clothes men and district security guards —most wearing motorcycle helmets—and bundled into an unmarked van.
“We arrested them because they planned to march and submit a petition letter to the French Embassy without informing City Hall,” municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said.
“We took action in accordance with the law,” he said, explaining that by walking across the city to deliver the petition calling on France to suspend some of its military aid to Cambodia, the women were conducting an illegal march, as they did not provide proper notice to authorities.
Kong Chantha, 45, who was with the activists but escaped arrest, said that she witnessed Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, shouting orders to the men to grab the women.
Mok Chito, acting Phnom Penh police chief, confirmed that Daun Penh district security guards, not police officers, had taken the women.
After being told to follow government orders to halt public protests, the group of women, which also included Song Srey Leap, Phan Chhunreth and Bo Chhorvy, was released at about 4:30 p.m.
“Police asked me why I took part in a protest. I told them that I did not protest, I just tried to submit a letter to the French Embassy to ask for the release of 10 people, including Vorn Pov,” Mr. Vanny said.
Following a confrontation between garment factory workers and the 911 paratrooper unit outside the Yakjin factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district on Thursday, soldiers beat and detained 10 of the demonstrators and their whereabouts are currently unknown.
Among the detained is Vorn Pov, the outspoken president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, an organization of informal workers including tuk-tuk drivers.
Ms. Vanny said that she had aimed to deliver the petition calling for the release of the 10 to the French Embassy because she believed that France provided funds to the 911 unit.
However, Nicolas Baudouin, first secretary at the French Embassy, said, “We are not providing funds to the 911 unit.”
Ms. Vanny said that although the Boeng Kak activists will temporarily stop their demonstrations, which have been ongoing since municipal authorities attempted to evict them in 2009, they would eventually resume again.
“We will continue to protest someday to demand justice and human rights,” she said.
“I think that the arrest at this time is meant to break the spirit of the people because they [the government] wants to close down human rights and democracy,” Ms. Vanny added.
Both City Hall and the Interior Ministry issued statements on Saturday announcing that freedom of assembly, a constitutional right, would be suspended until further notice.