Cambodian police break up TV licence protest

Cambodian police break up TV licence protest
Protesters clash with police officers during a demonstration in central Phnom Penh.

PHNOM PENH - Cambodian riot police on Monday used electrified batons and clubs to beat demonstrators demanding a licence for an independent television station for defying a ban on unauthorised rallies in the capital, rights groups said.

Scores of armed police violently dispersed more than 100 protesters who tried to rally in a Phnom Penh park, activists and witnesses told AFP.

At least two protesters were wounded, one hit by a police baton in the head and another punched in one eye, according to Am Sam Ath of local rights group Licadho.

The protesters were rallying in support of prominent government critic and radio station owner Mam Sonando, who is calling on authorities to provide him a licence for a television station.

The government has repeatedly denied Sonando's request, saying there is no frequency available.

But Cambodia stands accused of only granting licences to pro-government media.

Local rights group ADHOC condemned the crackdown as violation of human rights.

"Mam Sonando is demanding a TV license to counter the government's monopoly on televised media and greater reach for his radio station," the group said in a statement.

"A free and independent press is vital in a democracy; however the Cambodian government looks determined to keep a tight reign over access to information," it added.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito defended the crackdown, saying authorities carried out their duty within the law to "maintain security and public order" because the demonstration was not allowed.

Sonando, who has dual Cambodian-French citizenship, was convicted in October 2012 on charges including insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state.

He was released from jail in March last year after a court cleared him of a secessionist plot, slashing his 20-year jail term and ordering his release from prison.

Authorities have quelled recent street protests against strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen.

His government ended a ban on public demonstrations in the capital last month, but officials said organisers would still have to ask for permission from local authorities to stage protests.

Hun Sen faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government's suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule after last year's election.

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