The Ministry of Interior yesterday said it would establish a special commission to investigate the brutal attacks against two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly on Monday, a probe the party suggested should have no excuse for failure amid “clear video evidence” of the perpetrators’ identities.
“The whole world is watching,” said Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday, noting that security camera footage from both the National Assembly and nearby Australian Embassy captured the assailants on film before they masked their faces ahead of the attacks.
“We can see their faces clearly, we know what groups they came from and we know who they were with,” Sovann said. “[The government] claims this is a country of justice, peace, the rule of law, so they must act, especially the Interior Ministry”.
According to National Police deputy chief Chhay Sinarith, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, who is also interior minister, yesterday called for the commission to thoroughly investigate the incidents and establish who the perpetrators were.
“Sar Kheng has set up this commission in order to try to uncover the identities of those involved in causing injuries to the lawmakers,” he said.
Sinarith said an initial meeting of the commission is due to be presided over by Secretary of State for the Ministry of Interior Em Sam An today, though he provided no more information on the body’s composition.
CNRP deputy director-general of public affairs Kem Monovithya said on Monday that Kheng had been personally approached by CNRP lawmakers on Monday morning calling for security services to intervene as CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha’s house in Phnom Penh was surrounded by a rock-throwing mob.
Despite that request, no police arrived during what ended up being a nearly six-hour ordeal in which Sokha’s wife was trapped inside the house.
Prior to the attacks, which saw CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sakphea dragged from their cars and savagely beaten as they left the National Assembly, at least 2,000 people had assembled to demand the removal of Sokha from his position as the assembly’s deputy president.
The attacks left Chamroeun with a double arm fracture, broken nose and chipped front teeth, while both men sustained significant facial injuries. Both men were flown to Thailand for medical treatment yesterday.
Photographs yesterday circulated widely on social media, highlighting the presence of members of the security services dressed in civilian clothing and prominent Cambodian People’s Party activists at the protest.
Other photos appeared to reveal the identities of some of the masked attackers by comparing their clothing and physical features to people earlier photographed in the crowd.
Several of those apparently responsible for the attacks were seen to earlier have been associating with leading members of CPP activist groups, including the Youth Federation of Senaneak, whose executive president, Pankhem Bunthan, denied having any role in organising the demonstration or violence.
“The whole protest came from the will of people,” he said. “I would like to deny any rumours on social media saying my group is behind the violent attacks on the lawmakers.”
Authorities yesterday again failed to provide reasons for the lack of police presence outside both the National Assembly and Sokha’s house, with none of the chiefs of the relevant district police forces able to be reached and municipal police chief Choun Sovann failing to answer repeated phone calls.
On Monday, Tonle Bassac commune police chief Sok Sam Uot suggested his men “went for lunch” before the lawmakers were attacked, while Boeung Kak II commune police chief Khat Khuntith said his officers were too busy directing traffic to intervene at Sokha’s house.
In a joint statement released yesterday, six prominent civil society groups highlighted the notable disparity between the heavy-handed policing regularly seen at opposition rallies and the impunity the violence was met with on Monday.
“Over the last few years, we have seen countless peaceful protests violently dispersed in the capital by disproportionate deployment of state security forces – who were nowhere to be seen as two lawmakers were assaulted yesterday,” Licadho technical coordinator Am Sam Ath said in the statement.
The EU Delegation in Phnom Penh also released a statement expressing concern about the incidents, calling on the government to punish the attackers and “take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of all democratically elected representatives of the Cambodian people”.
Meanwhile, with Prime Minister Hun Sen leaving France yesterday at the end of an official state visit, the office of French President François Hollande issued a statement stressing “the importance of political dialogue” and the need for reforms to be implemented in Cambodia.
During that visit, Hun Sen was met by hundreds of Cambodian expatriates protesting his authoritarian grip on power and repression of the opposition and human rights activists.
In a speech made in France on Sunday, Hun Sen stated he had been asked permission for the protest against Sokha to go ahead and spoke of CPP supporters “playing” outside the National Assembly the following day.
On Monday evening, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy posted a statement on his official Facebook page blasting the “fascist methods” of the prime minister, saying the violence was “clearly reprisals from the ruling party” for the demonstrations in France.
The CPP has said neither Hun Sen nor the party bear any responsibility for the demonstration or violence.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA