Five police from Phnom Penh’s Dangkor and Russey Keo districts could face charges for allegedly beating false confessions out of three suspects, a technique human rights observers say is pervasive in Cambodia.
Judges and lawyers at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday questioned the three Russey Keo and two Dangkor district police for about two hours, over accusations they beat three suspects until they confessed to the March 25 theft of a Lexus in the capital’s Chamkarmon district.
“[Police] are accused by the three suspects of beating them and forcing them to confess to a crime they did not commit,” said Judge Chaing Sinath, who is presiding over the case. “If [police] have really committed this act, they have violated the law.”
That police may have employed torture to elicit a false confession out of suspects comes as no surprise to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. But the court’s apparent pursuit of an investigation into a complaint of this sort strays from normal operating procedure, he said.
Obtaining a confession out of a suspect increases the likelihood of a conviction, which looks good on police officers’ professional records, sometimes even leading to promotions, Robertson said. As a result, employing torture as an interrogation tactic is ingrained in Cambodian police culture.
“What we see frequently is this kind of brutality to force confessions … basically to make police’s lives easier,” Robertson said. “It’s interesting that [these five] were actually brought into court.”
More than 90 per cent of the complaints of torture or ill-treatment sent to rights group Licadho over the past four years involved abuse of people in police custody, Sharon Critoph, Licadho’s prison consultant, said in an email yesterday.
Of nearly 6,500 people Licadho interviewed for a study, more than 6 per cent reported having been subjected to torture or ill-treatment by police or prison officials, she added. Licadho believes the actual number is much higher.
In a hearing scheduled for February 18, court officials will issue a verdict for the three alleged car thieves and decide whether to charge the five accused police – all of whom denied beating suspects – with a crime, Sinath said.
Guilty or not, HRW’s Robertson said, if “history is any kind of guide, these police don’t have much to fear”.