Political analysts and researchers are warning of the possibility of increasing violence and corruption as the government digs in its heels against a rising protest movement that was sparked by the arrests of several rights workers and an election official last week.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, who has also been threatened with legal action over recent comments he made about the unrest, said the suppression of freedom of speech in the Kingdom would open the door for more corruption and rights abuses, which in turn could cause public anger to explode.
“The danger is that sometimes low level people [officials] might take this opportunity to commit corruption,” he said. “The might increase the suppression [of rights]. They will increase exploitation. There will be more injustices, more nepotism. This can be a source of huge problems, while the leaders … might not be aware of this.”
“Sometimes people’s anger explodes before high-level officials are aware. To me, any such outbreak of public anger would be damaging to out country,” he added.
On Monday, some 200 people from civil society groups and land activist networks began a campaign labeled Black Monday. The demonstrators hoped to gather at Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where four rights workers detained earlier this month on bribery charges are being held.
At least six people were arrested and questioned over several hours during the protest, which was described as a “color revolution” by the authorities, in a reference to uprisings in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that toppled several governments in recent years with the support of western powers.
Meas Ny, a social researcher, said the government’s strategy of arresting and charging opposition supporters and human rights campaigners on questionable grounds could lead to a state of emergency.
“If the situation of oppression continues to drag on, it will turn violent because some citizens cannot calm their feelings,” he said. “I think the government will use the armed forces to control the situation when that time comes.”
“I think that if we continue along this path, we will be walking down the road of the old regime in Myanmar,” he added, referring to the thousands of political prisoners held in the former pariah state before it began its détente with the west in 2010.
However, Prime Minister Hun Sen in a speech on Tuesday warned against using color symbolism in the protests.
“Regardless of color… they called orange color at some places, while some people called for red color and some people called for black. No matter what type of color, if it was illegal, [they] will be [arrested]. The court was formed to implement the law; the armed forces were formed to protect the state; and the prison was formed to put prisoners in,” he said.