In anticipation of today’s scheduled Municipal Court verdict for six men facing charges of violence and property damage in connection with a September clash on Phnom Penh’s Kbal Thnal overpass, rights groups yesterday called for their acquittal.
A statement from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released yesterday asserts that all six were arrested without reason at a roadblock at the overpass the night of September 15, when police opened fire on a crowd – who allegedly threw rocks at police and damaged property – killing one and injuring dozens.
“The court proceedings and eyewitness accounts make it clear that the police arbitrarily seized a few people from a crowd,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in the statement. “Instead of prosecuting the six to justify the security forces’ use of excessive force against protesters, the authorities should free them and bring charges against security personnel responsible for a death and many injuries.”
During their trial on Monday morning, none of the more than 30 police called to testify said they could identify any of the defendants. Further, all witnesses for the prosecution said they did not know whether the national or municipal police department made the arrest.
In court, all defendants denied taking part in throwing rocks and other projectiles at police that night. Nguyen Thydoc, the only one of the six defendants who did not receive bail, testified that police interrogating him beat and shocked him with electric batons until he falsely confessed to throwing rocks.
If convicted this morning, defendants face prison terms ranging from two to five years and fines of up to 10 million riel ($2,500).
The victim of the shooting on September 15 was 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan, a newspaper vendor caught in the crossfire. His death was the first at the hands of security forces deployed to control election and garment worker protests. Since then, five others have been killed.