Three of the alleged attackers in last week’s savage gang-bashing of two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly turned themselves in and confessed yesterday, the government announced late last evening.
In a statement, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak listed the suspects as Chay Sarith, 33, and Sot Vanny, 45, of Takhmao town in Kandal province, and Mao Hoeun, 34, of Prey Veng province’s Peamro district.
“At 16:30 on 3 November 2015, perpetrators who have injured the two [Cambodia National Rescue Party] lawmakers, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea, showed up in front of the commission investigating the case of the injured lawmakers,” Sopheak wrote.
“To implement [the] legal procedure, the . . . commission . . . will send those [who have] confessed to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to face legal action.”
On October 26, Chamroeun and Sakphea were ripped from separate cars by a group of men, knocked to the ground, kicked and stomped on after driving out of the assembly’s south entrance following a plenary session of parliament.
Their attackers emerged as thousands of pro-ruling Cambodian People Party protesters calling for Kem Sokha to be stripped of the assembly’s vice presidency had begun to disperse.
In the aftermath of the violence, online activists identified Mao Hoeun as the white shirt-clad attacker captured on video stomping on the chest of Chamroeun as he lay semi-conscious and bloody in the street.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy initially accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of using “fascist methods” and ordering the protest and attack in reprisal for anti-government demonstrations that confronted the premier on a state visit to France.
Hun Sen, who alluded to the anti-Sokha protests in a speech the night before as a reaction to anti-government rallies, has since attempted to distance the party from the assault, calling last week for arrests.
But the lack of police presence during the attacks and statements by the victims that they were channelled towards the attackers by parliamentary security staff has contributed to suggestions of government collusion.
Assembly Secretary-General Leng Peng Long, whose administration is in charge of security at the parliament, yesterday denied he was responsible for “what happened outside the National Assembly”, while also rejecting the assertion that guards led the men into a trap.
From their hospital beds in Thailand, the men told Human Rights Watch how their cars were blocked from leaving through the usual northwestern exit – despite cars being allowed through before them – and diverted to the “rarely-used” south gate, where the attackers were waiting.
The injured lawmakers, and rights groups, also said that police and security guards stood by and watched during the assault, while the attackers coordinated with walkie-talkies.
Sakphea additionally noted the absence of barbed wire barricades, usually surrounding the building whenever a plenary session is held, and that there were fewer guards than normal at the security scanner, which, they were told, was broken.
Citing the ongoing investigation Peng Long declined to discuss the management of security on the day of the attack, only to say the lawmakers were not blocked from exiting any gate.
“Lawmakers have the right to go wherever they want. No one can stop them,” he said.
According to CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, among the MPs permitted to leave via the usual exit before the attack, parliamentary security guards are police from the Interior Ministry assigned to, and also paid by, the assembly.
The Parliamentary Handbook, which describes the responsibilities of the assembly’s administration, states the parliament’s own security staff is responsible for 24-hour security affairs on the National Assembly campus, including mandatory security checks of all entrants.
Furthermore, it states that during plenary sessions, “strict security needs to be in place”.
Numbers listed for the assembly’s security office were disconnected when called yesterday.
National Assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun echoed comments by Peng Long.
“What happened outside the assembly is not the responsibility of the assembly. The incident happened on the public road,” Vun said.
Vun then questioned why the lawmakers decided to leave the assembly before the session had finished and added: “Why didn’t the driver and the owner of the car drive away? Why did they stay there to let the protestors beat them?”
Sakphea’s driver, Phal Pheakdey, has agreed to give evidence for a second time to the special commission investigating the attack, after initially refusing to be re-summonsed.
Spokespeople for the National Police, Interior Ministry and City Hall could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Authorities are also facing questions about the failure of police to intervene when a contingent of protesters went from the assembly to Kem Sokha’s house and began to throw stones through the windows.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who yesterday visited the injured lawmakers in Bangkok before returning to Phnom Penh last night after a trip to Europe, said investigators needed to address “obvious” questions about the role of authorities.
“Why were the vehicles used by the assembly members blocked and asked to go to a different way out than usually used? . . . How come that unusual way out, when used, led to those incidents? These are questions that any professional investigators should ask . . . The task is crystal clear.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA