The Hon Julie Bishop
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Standoff between peaceful protestors and armed police, soldiers and security guards in Cambodia. A letter for Australia's Foreign Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop,
Cambodian police armed with electric cattle prods attack peaceful protestors in Phnom Penh one day and allow them to protest the following day as tensions rise between two opposing forces - neither acknowledging the right of the other to behave as they do. The authorities wants to quash all opposition whilst a rapidly growing number of Cambodians want real democracy for their country and an end to the Hun Sen dictatorship.
The Hon Julie Bishop
Minister for Foreign Affairs
House of Representatives, Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
29th Jan 2014
Today, in my role as filmmaker, I followed a small group of Cambodian human rights activists as they moved from embassy to embassy around Phnom Penh. They were delivering petitions requesting the international community to put pressure on the Cambodian government to release from prison of 23 striking garment factory workers arrested earlier this month. Four or five of their co-workers were killed when Cambodian soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators.
The authorities tried to prevent the petitioners from walking from embassy to embassy and it seemed for a while that they would again, as they did on Tuesday 27th, use brute force to prevent the rally from continuing. Violence was averted when the human rights activists told the authorities they would not walk but would deliver their petitions by tuk tuk. And so they did for the next couple of embassies but before long they were walking en masse – in defiance of the authorities. The police and the black-helmeted security guards maintained their distance, keeping a watchful eye, but had clearly been instructed not to use violence today.
Decisions to either use violence or not are made by Prime Minister Hun Sen, as I am sure you will be aware. One day he is Bad Cop, the next Good Cop. One day his police, army and baton-wielding Darth Vader look alikes are beating people up, the next standing by, zapping their electrified cattle prods to intimidate Cambodians demonstrating peacefully on behalf the jailed factory workers.
The clearest indication of how this stand-off will play itself out is to be found in a statement made recently by Hun Sen’s son, Hun Many:
“I might not be able to contain the CPP youth and supporters any longer…Their hearts are burning with hatred toward the leaders of the CNRP from listening to the barking, cursing and insults to the CPP leaders and especially to the Prime Minister.”
And in a message to ambassadors yesterday, CPP National Assembly President Heng Samrin had the following to say:
“All ambassadors should know what happens and react promptly to any activities deemed scornful or aggressive in manner to the nation.”
What is the attacking and beating of Cambodian’s peacefully protesting if not “aggressive in manner?” As for responding with violence to “activities deemed scornful”, no comment needs to be made. Please, Minister, search out and view the many images and video clips available online that reveal how the authorities deals with ‘scornful’ Cambodians; with ‘barking, cursing’ protestors who insult Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Given the amount of foreign aid provided by Australia to Cambodia each year I believe it would be appropriate for the Australian government to publically condemn the violence being perpetrated by Cambodian authorities against Cambodian protestors who are exercising their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.