Journalists and human rights observer attacked in crackdown on peaceful protests

Note: This is all taken from Twitter reports from the scene. For more breaking news, analysis and commentary follow Will Jackson.

A human rights observer and journalists were tasered by electric prod, baton and slingshot wielding “thugs” overnight as police smashed a peaceful hunger strike protest at Phnom Penh’s Wat Phnom .

Twitter reports from the scene said about six protesters, including elderly women, were injured as police and plain-clothes men swarmed over the hilltop temple in the north of the city’s CBD about 10pm.

One early estimate put the number of police and plain clothes assailants at 400.

However, other estimates were lower.

Some of the protesters were taken to hospital suffering severe welts on their bodies from marbles fired from slingshots while at least one suffered a serious head wound.



One local and three foreign journalists and one human rights observer were tasered and/or hit with projectiles.

Afterwards, Cambodia Daily journalist Denise Hruby tweeted a photo of the mark left by one of the electric prods.

Members of the Boeung Kak Lake and Borei Keila communities — who have been running ongoing demonstrations since being evicted during separate land grabs in the past couple of years— had begun a peaceful hunger strike earlier on Sunday protesting the results of the recent national elections.

Photographer John Vink was there earlier in the evening and took some photos.

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A hunger strike by Prince Sisowath Thomico at the same location on Friday evening was also disrupted within hours by police although in that instance Prince Thomico and his supporters left the area peacefully.

Cambodia’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, activist monks and other disaffected groups of citizens have been staging daily demonstrations against the results of July 28’s national election in the lead-up to the re-opening of the National Assembly on Monday.

The opening of the new parliament was expected to go ahead despite the delivery of a petition with about 250,000 thumbprints to King Nordom Sihamoni on Sunday asking for it to be delayed.

From September 15-17 the CNRP held a massive three-day demonstration with crowds of about 30,000 attending rallies at Freedom Park and hundreds camping out for the duration.

The government’s security measures during the protests — which included blocking off dozens of roads including major arterials all over the city — sparked confrontations which lead to two outbreaks of violence and one death.

Since then groups of monks have been staging daily peaceful public prayer sessions while other protest groups have held small rallies.

The CNRP is demanding an independent investigation into the election which it claims was rigged by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, reform of the National Election Committee and other measures.

The CNRP is expected to follow through on its threat to boycott the new  parliament until its demands are met.

Read the Phnom Penh Post’s report of Sunday night’s incident (including a video) here.

Here is the Cambodia Daily’s account of what happened (with a limited paywall). Interestingly, they mention that the lighting around the wat was shut off before the raid.

Freelance photographer Omar Havana has some photos of incident here.

For more updates follow Abby Seiff, Kevin Doyle, Denise HrubyRicky Valezuala and Alex Higgins on Twitter.

QnA with Hun Sen’s Eye

Trippin' Like a Moose. Credit: Hun Sen's Eye
Trippin’ Like a Moose. Credit: Hun Sen’s Eye

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen may not be well known for his sense of humour, but his one remaining eye is undoubtedly funny as a clown in a box full of a scorpions. Since 2011, Hun Sen’s Eye’s Twitter feed (and later Tumblr) — poking fun at Cambodia’s opposition, riffing on his sons’ rampant libidos or joking about land-grabbingtorture  and Johnny Walker— has given some much-needed levity to the running social media commentary on Cambodian politics, society and events. After recently topping 2000 Twitter followers, the eye was good enough to answer a few quick questions via email, delving a little deeper than 140 character tweets and picture memes usually allow.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. When did you become sentient? What’s day-to-day life like for Hun Sen?

I can’t really pin a date on it. A couple of years ago I noticed that everybody and their fucking cow liked to talk about the artificial eye with whom I share a skull, and it pissed me off! Why should that eye get all the press, all the fame, all the attention? Luckily, social media was there for me, starting with MySpace. LOL MySpace. It’s the Funcinpec of social media.

Continue reading QnA with Hun Sen’s Eye

Khmer Rouge Tribunal limping on without Cambodian staff

Note: Before I could get this article published the UN went and decided to loan the Cambodian government enough cash to pay the outstanding salaries owed to the court’s Cambodian workers so I figured I might as well put it up here. A press release about the loan can be found here.

Cambodia’s troubled Khmer Rouge tribunal is managing to limp toward a verdict in the first “mini trial” of “brother number two” Nuon Chea and head of state Khieu Samphan, despite ongoing strike action by 134 of the court’s operational staff.

Even as the deadline for final submissions in Case 002/01 is pushed back again to September 26, the court is marshalling its remaining resources to keep work underway.

But questions remain as to how long it can continue without the Cambodian audio/visual, IT, legal support, cleaning and security staff, translators and interpreters who are refusing to come to work.

Continue reading Khmer Rouge Tribunal limping on without Cambodian staff

Post-election protest social/traditional media mashup timeline

Military Police face off with protesters during three days of post-election protests in Phnom Penh. Credit: Will Jackson
Military Police face off with protesters during three days of post-election protests in Phnom Penh. Credit: Will Jackson

Note: This is intended to be an organic document. Any corrections or suggestions for additional material – videos, pictures, articles – are welcome. It’s also a bit of an experiment. Please let me know what you think in the comments at the bottom.


It could have been any Sunday morning in Phnom Penh. Motodops hustled, food cart vendors hawked, homeless kids scrounged, women cooked and gossiped, men gambled and gossiped. The sun was out but there was a storm on the way. Standard. There was just the small matter of the razor wire everywhere. And the soldiers.

Continue reading Post-election protest social/traditional media mashup timeline

Cambodian elections blood-free… so far

Hun Sen at the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2010.
Hun Sen at the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2010. Copyright World Economic Forum/Sikarin Thanachaiary.

Cambodia will go to the polls on Sunday after what looks like being the most peaceful and relatively straightforward election campaign the troubled Southeast Asian nation has ever seen. But by no means is this a sign the country’s “strongman” Prime Minister Hun Sen is relaxing his grip on power. Quite the opposite.

Ruthless and wily, Hun Sen is a classic – almost Bond-esque – villain. A former Khmer Rouge commander who lost his left eye to shrapnel during the battle for Phnom Penh in 1975, he defected to Vietnam two years later when it looked like he might become a victim of the genocidal regime’s murderous paranoia – then marched back in with the Vietnamese as they booted Pol Pot out of the capital in 1979. He was installed by the Vietnamese as prime minister in 1985 and has ruled the country with a lock-jaw grip on power ever since.

Now nearly 30 years later and Asia’s longest-surviving prime minister, Hun Sen remains happily ensconced in his multi-million-dollar mansion, complete with a helipad on the roof and located on the most prominent corner in Phnom Penh, and says he is determined to remain in situ for at least another decade or so. For the good of the country.

Continue reading Cambodian elections blood-free… so far

The Imp of the Perverse

Sometimes I get the urge to steal things. I never do, of course. I haven’t stolen anything – apart from kisses – since I was about 15 years old.

Back then I was heavily into Magic: The Gathering – a fantasy card game, kind of like a cross between chess, Dungeons and Dragons and snap. To play you needed to collect a lot of cards and they were  expensive. My friends used to shoplift packs from a game and toy shop in the town where I lived.

I only ever stole one pack. Maybe two. I guess I just did it because of peer pressure. None of us were ever caught but I didn’t like the greasy rush I felt before and during the act and was guilt-ridden afterwards. I never stole again.

Continue reading The Imp of the Perverse

‘Great care’

It’s a typical weekday afternoon and a standoff is in progress at a childcare centre. Inside is a gunman who moments before shot and killed a security guard while robbing a bank.

Most of the children, teachers and staff have escaped from the centre but the gunman has hostage a three-year-old girl Alice, a four-year-old boy Tom and teacher Julie Anderson, 34.

Alice has sandy blonde hair and is missing one of her bottom teeth. Her favourite toy is a stuffed dinosaur named Robbo.

Continue reading ‘Great care’

How to be happy

I was once an unhappy man. I was moderately successful in my work – earning me a moderate amount of money – and had a moderate number of friends. But my soul – like most people’s I suspect – was still plagued by a deep, unsatisfiable bleakness.

No matter what I did – exercise, hobbies, booze, writing, psychotherapy, hypnosis, prostitutes, self-harm, drugs, pets, homicide, aromatherapy, cannibalism – nothing seemed to give me an ongoing, sustainable lift in mood. The miserable just kept on.

I read everything there was to read on the subject of happiness but nothing rang true until, finally, I came upon a theory that resonated with my hurt.

I found a study that said what made people happy wasn’t how much material wealth they had, it was how much material wealth they had relative to their peers.

Continue reading How to be happy