Ruom Collective
A MULTIMEDIA COLLECTIVE BASED IN ASIA
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A collective of journalists based Asia

Crackdowns in Phnom Penh

The last few days have been some of the most dramatic in Cambodia’s recent history. Not since 1998 has the country seen such violence. Wide-spread and large-scale protests combined with strong anti-government sentiments created a powder keg environment, and the police crackdown on garment factory workers, and others protesting on their behalf, was the spark that set it all off.

On January 2nd, a standoff between striking factory workers and members of the Cambodian army’s 911 Airborne Unit erupted into a sudden and unexpected street battle, which ended with the arrest of 10 protestors – including monks and union leaders. Several hours later, police forces aggressively dispersed a similar demonstration across town at the Canadia garment factory, reportedly beating several of the female protestors.

 January 03, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A man is arrested in front of a factory near National Road 4 after people attempted to help striking workers leave Yakjin garment factory. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

January 03, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A man is arrested in front of a factory near National Road 4 after people attempted to help striking workers leave Yakjin garment factory. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

In response, residents of the area surrounding the factory blockaded the roads leading into the neighbourhood and started street fires – refusing to leave until hundreds of police stormed the area. Though the street was cleared without heavy resistance, the more militant protestors occupied a large apartment building nearby. A siege situation developed, lasting late into the night. During repeated attempt to storm the structure, several police officers were injured. Ultimately the police were unable to clear the protestors from their stronghold and returned to their base, but the stage had been set for what was to come.

 January 03, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors following a violent crackdown on striking garment workers, who were demanding a wage increase. © Luc Forsyth / Ruom

January 03, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors following a violent crackdown on striking garment workers, who were demanding a wage increase. © Luc Forsyth / Ruom

Early on the morning of January 3rd, the protestors returned to man their barricades. Police arrived to retake the area, this time firing live rounds rather than wielding rubber batons. At least four people were killed. Though the main body of resistance was broken, smaller groups faced off against police and special forces units throughout the morning.

 03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A police officer fires a hand gun at a building from which protesters had been throwing rocks at police. © Nicolas Axelrod / Getty Images

03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A police officer fires a hand gun at a building from which protesters had been throwing rocks at police. © Nicolas Axelrod / Getty Images

 03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian protesters carry a wounded worker after a clash with military police. Garment workers and supporters were demanding a wage increase. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian protesters carry a wounded worker after a clash with military police. Garment workers and supporters were demanding a wage increase. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

 03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Garment factory workers leave their houses to return to their family homes elsewhere after clashes between protesters and police in the area. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

03 January, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Garment factory workers leave their houses to return to their family homes elsewhere after clashes between protesters and police in the area. © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

On January 4th, seemingly intent on preventing any further protest, police surrounded Freedom Park, the major rallying point for the Cambodian National Rescue Party – the main opposition party. Uniformed officers and plain clothed citizens, armed with wooden rods and pieces of rebar, forced CNRP supporters – largely comprised of rural seniors - out of the park. For the next hour they destroyed the tents and stage that had been host to rallies since October.

 January 04, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian National Rescue Party supporters are forced to leave a camp set up by opposition party leaders in Freedom Park. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

January 04, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian National Rescue Party supporters are forced to leave a camp set up by opposition party leaders in Freedom Park. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

 January 04, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Riot police guard the area near Freedom Park as a camp set up by opposition party leaders is dismantled. © Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images

January 04, 2014 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Riot police guard the area near Freedom Park as a camp set up by opposition party leaders is dismantled. © Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images

The long-ruling CPP seems to have decided to decisively stamp out its opposition, but it is unclear what this means for the future of Cambodian democracy.

Ruom photographers and writers were witness to all of these events as they happened, and our work was featured in The New York Times, TIME magazine, VICE, and BBC News, among many others.

As the events continue to unfold, Ruom will be there to report.