At least four activists were arrested in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Monday during a protest calling for the release of rights workers and an election official held on bribery charges.
The detainees – named as Sar Sorn, Phok Sophin, Nou Sat and Nak – were taking part in a Black Monday campaign protest in their local district of Prampi Makara.
The Black Monday campaign was launched to demand the release of National Election Committee member Ny Chakrya and four rights workers from local NGO Adhoc, who were arrested in late April and later charged for allegedly bribing a witness who was due to testify in a court case against opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha.
The arrests follow the detention last week of Sorn, who was briefly detained as she led protesters to the Appeals Court, where Chakrya was due to have his case heard.
Mean Chanyada, a spokesman for the municipality, said the protesters were arrested because they had defied a ban on public assembly that specifically targeted Black Monday campaigners.
“Yes, the Ministry of Interior clearly issued a directive to the authorities in 25 provinces and cities prohibiting gatherings and rallies from being staged for this black-color campaign,” he said.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party last month officially endorsed the campaign.
The activists arrested on Monday are locked in a land dispute with tycoon Suy Sophan, owner of the Phanimex company.
Campaigners on Monday told VOA Khmer that the continued detentions of activists taking part in the Black Monday protests was a reflection of deteriorating freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at local rights group Licadho, said the continued arrests would “anger the people”.
“The arrests contradict government guidelines and the behavior of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who tries his best to help the people and draw popularity from the people,” he said.
The campaigners have now adopted calls for an independent inquiry into the death of prominent political analyst Kem Ley, who was shot dead in broad daylight on July 10, as well as a resolution to and disputes around the country.
Tep Vanny, a leading land activist from the Boeung Kak lake community, said the arrests were a worrying sign that could point to government fears over the growing popularity of the campaign.
“We, the organizers of the Black Monday campaign, as well as the people in the Borei Keila community, don’t have any plan to make this … a color revolution to topple the government,” she said.
Vanny was also detained on Monday evening while leading a group of activists through Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, according to activists.