Police in Koh Kong province on Wednesday detained at least 17 people, who had been protesting the detention of three environmental activists.
Those detained included protesters, activists, rights workers and journalists. Witnesses said the arrests came only after police allowed a group of counter-protesters to clash with the original demonstration.
Phal Chamroeun, a human rights observer for the Community Legal Education Center, was among those detained Wednesday, along with In Kongchet, a rights worker for Licadho in Koh Kong province.
Both rights workers said the original group of protesters had clashed with counter-protesters prior to the order of the arrests, which was made by Bou Bun Hang, the provincial court prosecutor.
Uth Ridy, 18, a protester from the Koh Sra Lao community in Koh Kong, said he was injured in the ensuing scuffle. “I felt very shocked by this crackdown,” he said. “They used power to violate others and the poor.”
Real Chandara, police chief of Khemara Phoumint, said he was not aware of the crackdown, while Sam Khitvien, police chief of Koh Kong province, declined to comment.
Pen Bun Chhouy, deputy governor of Khemara Phoumint, said there was no “crackdown,” but that one group of protesters had “felt tired” of the others, leading to a clash. He said the detention of the rights workers was done only to “advise” them.
Protesters in Koh Kong have been angered by the arrest of three activists for Mother Nature Cambodia, who were leading campaigns against environmentally harmful sand dredging by two companies along the coast and against a Chinese hydropower development. The three activists remain in jail.