In the third time in as many months, a group of villagers yesterday took justice into their own hands, setting upon a man who had snatched a necklace off an elderly woman and beating him to death, police said.
When villagers in Cheung Prey district’s Trapaing Thmat village in Kampong Cham province heard the woman’s cry for help, they knocked 40-year-old Chhea Laiheng from his motorcycle and beat him to death in a rice field near the pagoda where the robbery had occurred.
“We can’t specify the exact number of villagers who hit the suspect, but the act is outlawed,” said Cheung Prey district police chief Heng Vuthy.
“It is difficult to unearth who actually hit him, because most villagers said the suspect deserved to die.”
Vuthy said that police would investigate the incident and that Laiheng’s body had been sent home to his family in Kampong Siem district.
Similar incidents occurred in Phnom Penh in September, when a mob killed two robbers who had shot and wounded a gold seller’s family members, and in August, when a mob attacked a man suspected of stealing a motorbike.
In cases of villager mob violence like yesterday’s, Dr Sothara Muny of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia said the fact Laiheng was an outsider could help explain villagers’ extreme reaction to his offence.
“Some communities are bound together, so when a stranger comes and commits something, they may react more violently than against a person from the same village,” Muny said.
But, he added, such mob mentality could also easily be viewed as a community reaction to a lack of faith in the justice system.
That is the read many rights groups have taken.
“I don’t approve of the residents’ action,” said Neang Sovath, an investigating officer in Kampong Cham for rights group Adhoc.
“But the police and the court officials should implement stricter law enforcement and restore the residents’ confidence.”
Adhoc director Thun Saray agreed that such actions showed a lack of confidence in the justice system, but noted that authorities in recent years have had some success in cracking down on mob violence.
Reports of mob violence have declined from about 30 cases per year a decade ago to only a handful per year currently, said Saray.
The growing prevalence of mobile phones with photo capabilities should help in documenting such incidents and bringing their instigators to justice, Saray said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the destruction of all court systems under the Khmer Rouge had created a culture of mob violence that the government was still attempting to change by improving the justice system and educating citizens about the rule of law.