Three police officers have been implicated in the murder of a man in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district on Friday, contradicting an earlier claim that the man had been fatally beaten by a mob after attempting to steal one of the officers’ motorbikes.
The three police officers are now at large, a police official said yesterday, with the victim’s family maintaining that no robbery had even taken place.
In fact, in an account posted on the National Police website, the dead man’s wife and one of his companions that night both said that victim Chamroeun Seyha, 26, had been badly beaten while in police custody, only to later die of his wounds after being sent to hospital.
Seyha was beaten to death on Friday by what provincial police on Sunday said was “a mob of villagers” who had gathered in response to 33-year-old district police officer Chhay Sina’s cries for help after five men purportedly attempted to rob him of his motorbike.
However, since the alleged robbery, Sina – along with district deputy police chief Pheadey Vitou, 33, and district police officer Kheang Songtheng, 31 – appears to have skipped town. “The police officer who was robbed [has] now escaped, along with two other police officers,” confirmed a district police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun yesterday avoided directly naming the three as suspects, but nonetheless noted that the suspects, whoever they may be, would not escape justice. “If they flee, it means that they committed the crime,” he added.
Meanwhile, in statements posted by the National Police, Khuon Sreymom, 21, the wife of the deceased, and Tith Leap, 22, one of the four surviving victims of the beating, claimed no robbery had actually taken place.
According to Sreymom, her husband and his friends had been confronted by district police at the gate of Thun Mon pagoda in Prek Koy commune’s Svay Tany village on their way home, and were later beaten and kicked after police accused them of trying to steal the motorbike.
Her account was echoed by Leap, who said he and the deceased, as well as three other friends on another motorbike, had overtaken Sina’s motorbike after he overtook them, with no intention to rob the officer.
When they arrived at the gate of Thun Mon pagoda, however, they were stopped by Sina and another police officer, who were later joined by two more police officers.
“When the two [police officers] arrived, [one of them] pulled the trigger of their gun, which was pointed in the air, but no bullet was fired,” Leap told the National Police. “Then, they started beating and kicking us.”
“At the police station, they [continued] beating us for an hour by kicking and kneeing us in our stomach,” he added.
The claims, however, were refuted by district police chief Seng Socheat, who asserted that the deceased and his friends had in-tended to rob Sina, and maintained that a mob was to blame.
“They hit Sina’s motorbike from behind and he fell down. They also walked to Sina, who then pointed a gun at them and called [the two officers] to help,” he said. “The villagers thought it was a robbery, so they beat and kicked them until our forces arrived.”
However, as CCHR’s advocacy director Piseth Duch noted yesterday, the Ministry of Interior “currently lacks practices to investigate police conduct”.
“We see very few cases of the Ministry of Interior performing thorough investigations of police officers who break the law, she said, pointing to an October beating that left two parliamentarians seriously injured.
An investigation into the case yielded no results until three members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit turned themselves in. No further arrests were made despite numerous people being filmed participating.