Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday condemned the savage beating of two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly on Monday, before then insisting the violence was wholly unrelated to the pro-ruling party rally from which its perpetrators emerged.
In a rare televised address to the nation, the premier called for those who attacked Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea to surrender themselves to authorities, ordering police to make arrests “without tolerance or discrimination”.
“Whoever did that bad activity must be arrested and face legal action,” Hun Sen said in the 10-minute speech, calling on witnesses to submit any footage of the incident.
“If [the perpetrators] come out and confess, it is the best way to be responsible before the law.”
The faces of a number of the attackers are visible in footage of the attack circulating widely online.
The group, which dragged the lawmakers from separate cars and beat them in the street, had remained outside the National Assembly as a pro-CPP demonstration calling for CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to resign as parliament’s vice president had begun to disperse.
Hun Sen stressed the time difference.“The protest finished at 11 o’clock, but what we regret is the incident at 12 o’clock,” he said.
CPP officials have denied accusations the violence was orchestrated by the party. The prior gathering, however, had been pointedly alluded to in a speech by the prime minister the night before.
In the wake of the attacks, other party loyalists have continued to push to remove Sokha, who has flown to Thailand to visit the injured lawmakers in hospital.
Yesterday, Defence Minister Tea Banh backed a letter by Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Deputy Commander Kun Kim calling for Sokha to be ousted.
Banh also supported anti-Sokha demonstrations held by soldiers in uniform at the border, saying military personnel were entitled to their opinions.
“It is their right of expression, which is not a violent act,” he said at a ceremony to welcome Hun Sen back from France.
“Military officials are also humans who know pain, hunger and know every problem. It’s nothing different from general citizens.”
He continued: “They [the military] are impartial only in their position, but their rights of expression can’t be banned.”
Shortly after the protest on Monday, a mob also attacked the Tuol Kork home of Kem Sokha with rocks, smashing windows as his wife was trapped inside.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy has accused Hun Sen of using “fascist methods” in retaliation for anti-government protests he encountered in Paris.
The premier, however, suggested yesterday that the protest had simply been a natural consequence of demonstrations against him in Paris and in New York during his trip to the United Nations, brought on by the opposition’s lack of regard for the “dignity of the country”.
He also called for the National Assembly to pay for the injured lawmaker’s medical expenses, saying Assembly President Heng Samrin had already donated $20,000.
The government also announced yesterday members of a commission to investigate the attacks.
The body will comprise six high-ranking security officials and be overseen by Secretary of State Em Sam An at the Ministry of Interior.
Members include the Ministry of Interior’s Penal Police Department chief Sok Khemrin, Internal Security Department chief Sieng Sen, Terrorism Department chief Y Sok Khy, Scientific Department chief Muong Sothea and Phnom Penh deputy police chiefs Song Ly and Sim Vuthy.
When asked yesterday if he believed the commission should include any sort of oversight from the CNRP, given the inclusion of known affiliates of the CPP, which has been implicated in organising the protests and violence, Sam An rejected the idea.
“The opposition party would join for what? It is not a multiparty body; this is a task for the police,” he said.
Sam An also sought to emphasise that the attacks were carried out by a “small number” of people, without being drawn on whether the lack of policing and failure of those officers present to intervene suggested complicity on the part of security services.
Meanwhile, deputy National Police chief Chhay Sinarith, who will serve as Sam An’s vice-chairman on the commission, acknowledged the weight of evidence available should guarantee arrests.
“We are trying to collect information and evidence from witnesses to target the suspects, and seeking cooperation from all of the relevant institutions that have more pictures,” Sinarith said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday played down the need for opposition party oversight on the committee, suggesting the overwhelming body of evidence already widely circulating on social media should make inaction from authorities impossible.
“We will leave the Ministry of Interior to work on this case,” he said. “A lot of people in the international community are waiting to see the results.”
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia and a former Post editor, said the case was a huge test.
“After previous outbreaks of political violence, the government has promised investigations, they’ve promised justice and then nothing much as happened,” Strangio said.
“The test this time is to see if they follow through. There’s voluminous photographic and video evidence of the individuals that committed the attack, so if they want to find these guys, it shouldn’t be difficult.”
Ny Chakrya, head of the human rights and legal aid section at rights group Adhoc, which is undertaking its own investigation of the case, agreed that there is simply too much evidence for the perpetrators not to be caught.
“What is already on Facebook is enough for the commission to get results on this case quickly,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON AND CHARLES PARKINSON