Residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake development were violently dispersed by riot police outside City Hall Thursday, marking an escalation in their prolonged protest against eviction.
At least 11 demonstrators were arrested and four were injured in police beatings, as around 100 residents gathered to demand a meeting with city officials over their impending eviction from a development site.
More than 100 riot police stormed into the gathered crowd on Thursday morning, hitting protesters with batons and shocking them, while arresting nine women and two underage boys.
“The police beat me with a baton on my head, causing bleeding, and on my right hand, causing swelling,” Ngeth Khun, a 71-year-old resident told VOA Khmer after the incident. “I came here to protest and protect my house, but the police come and beat me like this. I am old. I have no power to fight back against the police.”
The violence comes just one day after donors warned Cambodia that it must do more to protect citizens caught in land disputes or facing evictions.
Chan Saveth, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, called the police action brutal and unusual.
“We regard it as a serious human rights violation,” he said. “In particular the police do not think of humanity and of [the protesters] needs for a fair resolution.”
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called the beatings a “shocking and entirely unjustifiable response to a peaceful protest.”
“The arrests of children and beatings of elderly women represent a new low in what has already been a hard-fought land conflict,” he said.
Residents want the city to stop Shukaku, Inc., a development group owned by a ruling party senator, from pumping fill into the lake and flooding homes they say they have not agreed to leave. They want more compensation from the company or a plot of land for resettlement.
Rights groups met with city officials late Thursday in an effort to secure the release of those detained in the morning.
Chan Saveth said Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema agreed to release them if they “recognize their mistake.”