Provincial police have vehemently denied the suspected involvement of three police officers in the murder of a man in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district on Friday, despite claims from the victim’s family and witnesses that the victim was fatally beaten in police custody.
Chamroeun Seyha, 26, was beaten to death on Friday by what provincial police have repeatedly claimed was “a mob of villagers” who gathered in response to 33-year-old district police officer Chhay Sina’s cries for help after he had mistaken five men, including Seyha, as robbers.
But subsequent accounts have laid the blame for Seyha’s death at the feet of Sina and two fellow officers – district deputy police chief Pheadey Vitou, 33, and district police officer Kheang Songtheng, 31.
While admitting that the robbery had been a misunderstanding, provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun yesterday maintained that Seyha’s death was the result of a mob beating, which aggravated “old injuries”.
“The beating could not have been the sole cause of his death, because his intestines had many cuts,” he said.
Provincial deputy police chief Roeun Nara yesterday contradicted previous reports from a district police officer that Sina and his accomplices had fled town, though would only say they remained somewhere in the district.
Another officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post the men had not been to work since the incident and had turned off their phones.
Nara, meanwhile, added that authorities had not found any information that suggested a beating had taken place at the district police headquarters.
“We have met them, and they have not run away,” he said of the officers. “We have sent our authorities, but we could not find information that there was a beating at the [district police headquarters] . . . and who knew about it and saw it?”
While no independent eyewitness accounts from inside the police station have yet to emerge, another commune police officer, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed he was among the officers who helped the three police officer suspects take the victims from the scene of their initial beating to the district headquarters.
Nonetheless, Nara yesterday said it was impossible to identify who had been responsible for beating the men. “We cannot say that [the police attacked the victim], because there were many people who participated in the beating, and we cannot identify who among them were the authorities,” he said.
However, Chhun Hour, a villager who witnessed the beating, said he was able to clearly identify Sina attacking both Seyha and one of Seyha’s companions, 22-year-old Tit Leap.
“First, Sina kicked Tit Leap’s stomach, and later kicked and beat Seyha’s back and stomach,” he said. “Villagers did not beat them, and [in fact] asked the police to stop beating them, but they did not stop.”
This was confirmed by Leap himself, who yesterday said that the physical assault that began on the street had only escalated once they were behind closed doors. “There were five or six police who used their hands, feet and a metal pipe to hit us all over our bodies,” he said. “Even when blood came out of my mouth, they continued beating us.”
According to the deceased’s father-in-law, Mom Kry, a medical examination revealed the presence of cuts and bleeding in Seyha’s intestines, two scars on his neck, a ruptured bladder and a cracked skull. A medical report of Sina’s injuries cited “trauma” as the cause.
“The authorities must find justice for us, because the villagers claimed that they did not hit him,” Kry said.
Thon Vy, a relative, said Seyha’s head, back, foot and body were “full of injuries” when he fetched him from the district police headquarters and sent him to the hospital. Seyha died 20 minutes after his wife arrived at the hospital.
Cases of criminal suspects tortured in state custody are not unheard of, said Op Vibol, a lawyer for Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC), an NGO that provides free legal services.
“I used to hear about such cases, too, because some clients told me they were tortured by the police,” he said. “But it is very difficult to find evidence.”
“I do not know of any disciplinary action taken by the ministry,” he added, when asked about current efforts to prosecute police officers who torture criminal suspects.
According to a report released this February by the Centre for Civil and Political Rights compiling information provided by four NGOs, there remains “no procedural process in the legislative framework” that “instructs how prisoners and detainees can complain about acts of torture and ill-treatment in . . . police detention”.
“It is clear that when someone makes an allegation of ill-treatment or torture, they are not adequately investigated or followed up on,” it reads.