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Pang Vunny gestures towards his eyes as he explains his deteriorating eyesight
Pang Vunny gestures towards his eyes as he explains his deteriorating eyesight, near his residence on Veng Sreng Boulevard. Pha Lina

Out of jail, garment worker sees uncertain future

When Pang Vunny walks around his rented room just off of Veng Sreng Boulevard, he waves his hand from side to side in front of him, like a man feeling his way in the dark.

Ever since he was arrested and badly beaten on January 2 – as one of 23 detained over two days of unruly wage protests during which at least four demonstrators were shot dead – Vunny’s eyesight has been in decline.

Though he takes medicine, provided by rights group Licadho, he is unsure whether it can cure the ailment, or whether the blurry shapes he is still able to make out will soon disappear.

“I am worried I will go stone blind if they are not cured,” he said.

Vunny and the 22 others were freed from prison last Friday – albeit with convictions and suspended sentences – but freedom doesn’t lessen the worry over his livelihood and his siblings, whom he supports. His hazy vision means he can’t work in the garment factory.

“I am innocent, [but] they beat me like that and put me in jail, and sentenced me to three years’ imprisonment,” he said. “How about the soldiers who beat me? Why don’t they put them in jail, too?”

His voice breaking, Vunny recalled how he had been sitting in his room reading a Cambodian-to-English dictionary when soldiers and military police rushed in, beat him and dragged him out over the protests of his siblings.

As he was hauled down the street and had his hands tied behind his back, the beating continued, he said. Then, he passed out.

“Then they threw water on me. When I woke up, they used heavy shoes to kick me around the eyebrows,” he said.

Vunny now occasionally coughs up black blood, he said, and when he looks down, at a plate of food, for example, he immediately get a headache.

Vunny will travel to Bangkok for treatment soon, also courtesy of Licadho, but only after others with more pressing ailments. Meanwhile, he says he is considering appealing his conviction and countersuing the authorities.

National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said yesterday that it was within Vunny’s rights to sue, and that police “will comply with the court order if they do investigate”.

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