On assignment for VICE.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has been in power for nearly three decades. Many Cambodians consider him a dictator. He maintains complete control of the media and his party – the CPP -- has used their power to bleed Cambodia of much of its land and many of its natural resources. Although Cambodia has been peaceful since the civil war ended in 1979 it is still an oppressed country engrained in corruption.

The 2013 general elections gave Cambodians a voice for the first time. The urbanized parts of the country have utilized Facebook as a communicative tool to unify and speak out. As a result the CPP lost the majority of its power to the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), led by exiled leader Sam Rainsy. He returned just prior to the elections due to a royal pardon and instilled confidence in his followers to dare to speak out and demand a free and fair democratic state.

Provisional election results showed a marginal victory for the CPP.  Many parts of Cambodia were outraged. Approximately 1 million voters were missing from the electoral role and stories of widespread voting irregularities filtered into society. The CNRP refused to accept the results and demanded that an independent committee investigate the electoral irregularities - it never happened.

Rainsy called his followers to protest in Freedom Park, located in the heart of Phnom Penh. Through Facebook and word of mouth news spread across the country that the three day and three night demonstration was to be held.

The first day, the 15th of September saw tens of thousands of Cambodians from all walks of life fill Freedom Park. Tents were erected, food donated, medical supplies stocked; the CNRP was immaculately prepared.

It was not only the CNRP making preparations.  The government had mobilized the army. All around Phnom Penh, riot police could be seen in full riot gear carrying tear gas and smoke grenades. Strategically placed barriers, razor wire fencing guarded key government areas and controlled access in and out of the city.

The situation was tense. If the demonstrators were to leave Freedom Park,inevitably they would be confronted by riot police. And yet, the protesters were led by Rainsy towards the shrine of Norodom Sihanouk. Protesters tore apart barricades and dismantled the razor wire fencing while police loaded gas canisters.  Phnom Penh was on the brink of chaos; the tone of the day had been set. Rainsy triumphantly marched through the barricades, paid his respects to the late king and then led the protesters back to Freedom Park.

As nighttime fell in Phnom Penh police blockades remained in position causing multiple problems across the city. At Kbal Thnal overpass - a logistical artery into Phnom Penh- citizens began to dismantle the barricades.

This was the catalyst for the brutality that followed. Riot police armed with electrified riot shields unleashed water cannons on citizens and demonstrators. Electrified riot shields were used and many innocent citizens were badly beaten. The situation escalated and police inexplicably fired live ammunition into the masses, killing one innocent bystander with a bullet through his forehead. Several others were seriously injured.

Grieving family members and angry citizens surrounded the body of Mao Sok Chan as he lay for several hours until the UN arrived and removed the body.

News of the night’s actions filtered back to Freedom Park where peaceful protesters had gathered for the night. They remained calm and as dawn broke in Freedom Park Sam Rainsy pleaded for restraint.

Two further days of demonstrations gave the thousands of attendees their chance to broadcast their voice to the world, something that has never been seen in Cambodia before. Large factions of Cambodia want change and the situation remains unresolved. With more demonstrations planned, Cambodia’s political situation remains on a knife edge. 

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