A group of Cambodian protest leaders were briefly detained by police in Phnom Penh Tuesday when they gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to submit a petition calling for the release of 23 activists arrested this month during a deadly crackdown on a strike by garment factory workers.
The 11 were released later in the day after they signed promises not to join in more anti-government rallies.
Among the eight arrested were outspoken activists Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and Tep Vanny, who was also detained earlier this month after leading a rally outside the French Embassy.
Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said protesters were calling for international help in obtaining the release of the detainees, who have been held far from family support and legal counsel.
Police ask an activist to stand near the U.S. embassy and wait for officials to receive her petition that calls for U.S. intervention to release union leaders and workers arrested in early January, Phnom Penh, Jan. 21, 2014. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA)
"We regret that in Cambodia the act of violating the law is growing bigger and bigger," he said. "We see that democracy and the respect of human rights are sliding backward toward dictatorial regime."
Officials in the Cambodian capital declined to comment Tuesday.
The 23 activists were detained following an incident on January 3, when five people were killed and 40 injured by an elite military unit that fired into a crowd protesting outside Phnom Penh.
The protesters were demanding a doubling of the minimum wage to $160 per month.
Meanwhile, supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party saw their own gathering disrupted in Kandal province, the home base of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy said police were attempting to incite violence among opposition supporters, so the rally was canceled.
Eng Chhay Eang, a CNRP member of parliament and head of working group for Kandal province, said the rally was canceled because police were attempting to incite violence among opposition supporters.
"This is because they injected hundreds of their agents who are bodyguards of CPP leaders into members of the audience so if we continue our meeting, something could be exploded," Eang said. "Therefore, we have decided to postpone the meeting and let people go back home."
The government has not responded to the allegation.
The CNRP has been demanding that Hun Sen step down and call new elections because of alleged fraud in the July parliamentary polls.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service. Kong Sothanarith also contributed to this report from Phnom Penh.