Cambodia’s ‘Black Monday’ Protests Continue Despite Crackdown
The arrest of a further five rights activists earlier this week has signalled the continuation of Cambodia’s ‘Black Monday’ Protests, despite Government crackdowns against the movement. Five women were arrested on Monday by police in riot gear as they gathered, wearing black, to demonstrate for the release of four officers from human rights group Adhoc and a senior election official who have been jailed on what many believe to be politically motivated charges. The arrest of the women follows arrests of eight activists the previous Monday for similar offences – namely for demonstrating without permission.
The continuation of the crackdown has been met with condemnation and concern both in Cambodia and abroad. Suon Bunsak, the Secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC), decried the action as a complete human rights violation,
suggesting that it has “totally violated the principles of the human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a signatory country”.
Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson had similar views, condemning the events in saying that
“Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) are finally showing their true dictatorial colors with this kind heavy handed crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
Despite the widespread criticism from human rights groups, including a Joint Statement from over 25 Cambodian Civil Society Organisations that accuses the Government of “suppress[ing] civil society and target[ing] opposition figures”, the Government, according to the Cambodia Daily has held firm, announcing that the Black Monday Protests would be viewed as a rebellion and an attempt to foment a ‘color revolution’.
Human rights advocates are right to be concerned; in the lead up to the 2018 election cycle, the crackdown is foreshadowing of the CPP’s willingness to suppress critical civil society through any means and with complete impunity. The CPP’s legitimacy as a ruling party has stemmed from it’s claim to have cast out the Khmer Rouge and bring peace, security and economic growth to a war ravaged country. However, whilst Cambodia is not a one-party state, Hun Sen’s rule has also been characterized by the effective repression of political rivals and domestic discontent. The crackdown against the Black Monday Protests are but the latest manifestation of a denial of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly – which as UN special rapporteur Maina Kiai suggests, has the potential to foster violent rebellion by denying peaceful, inclusive outlets of demonstration. The continuation of the protest’s despite the crackdown, suggest that Cambodian activists are unwilling to remain submissive to the Government’s actions and signal the potential for political upheaval and the spread of collective violence as the next election approaches.
In particular, the suggestion that the charges that have sparked the protests are politically motivated adds weight to these concerns. At the centre of the events is Kem Sokha, acting president of the opposition party the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). On May 2nd, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sent four Adhoc staff to prison and one election official to a correctional facility, charging them with bribing a witness in the scandal surrounding Sokha’s alleged involvement with a prostitute. The subsequent Black Monday protests have been against these charges, advocating for the release of those working, according to Adhoc, only to “promote human rights”. Those interested will be watching this coming Monday to see if the latest round of arrests has effectively stopped the protests or whether events will continue to escalate, potentially violently.