A land rights activist and a human rights defender who were beaten during a protest in October were questioned both as suspects and as plaintiffs at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday afternoon.
Boeung Kak lake activist Chan Puthisak and Licadho human rights monitor Am Sam Ath had filed a complaint against Daun Penh district security guards last year after they were beaten during a demonstration on World Habitat Day on October 10. Two security guards, in turn, filed a complaint against them to the commune police, for which they were summonsed yesterday.
Puthisak said two clerks present during the questioning were puzzled as to why he had been classified as a suspect by the police and summonsed as such, and revealed to him that the complaint did not actually include the two activists’ names.
He added that a video was shown during the questioning that showed Puthisak being beaten on his head and Sam Ath punched in the face but that no further evidence was presented.
Asked whether he had beaten any security guard, Puthisak said he told his interrogators “that I just took pictures”, adding that security guard chief “Kim Vutha slapped my face and his men came and beat me up”.
They also asked him about the injuries he sustained, to which he answered that he was hit on the head and that he had lost his phone during the incident.
“I filed a complaint and demanded $350 for compensation for the treatment and the phone,” he said. “We suspect that … the police’s report switched around the victims and suspects.”
Sam Ath, meanwhile, said after his questioning that the prosecutor told him that he “issued a summons to question and clarify whether I was a victim or suspect” following a report by the police.
The letter from the court summonsed both activists as suspects. “I requested the prosecutor to find the five or six perpetrators that jointly beat me,” he said.
Chhorn Kaony, Chey Chumneah commune police chief, said that “when people come to file complaints, we write at their request … We do not exaggerate or twist anything.”
However, he said that the commune police had not written the report that was submitted to the court. “The final report could be from the district,” he said.
Daun Penh district police chief Hout Chanyaran declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Ly Sophana, Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman, said the two would remain suspects. “The prosecutor decided to continue these cases,” he said.
Wan-Hea Lee, the UN human rights representative in Cambodia, said yesterday that she didn’t take issue with the summons itself.
“When law enforcement authorities receive a complaint, it’s their responsibility to investigate it,” she said in an email.
However, she continued, “Their accounts being amply substantiated by the evidence, I would expect the same attention to now be given to their claims that they were themselves beaten on the day that they are accused of having committed violence.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap, offered stronger words, calling it “perverse” that Puthisak and Sam Ath were summonsed as suspects. “The court should throw out this frivolous allegation … without delay.”
While “judicial harassment” of human rights defenders was not new, she argued that “the situation is noticeably deteriorating as we draw closer to elections”.