Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Alleged mob murder of a 15-year-old boy leaves a village on edge



Alleged mob murder of a 15-year-old boy leaves a village on edge

Sok Noeun, 36, holds a portrait of her late son, Phal Narou, 15, who was beaten by a mob after he was allegedly caught stealing last week in Phnom Penh.
Sok Noeun, 36, holds a portrait of her late son, Phal Narou, 15, who was beaten by a mob after he was allegedly caught stealing last week in Phnom Penh. Erin Handley

Alleged mob murder of a 15-year-old boy leaves a village on edge

Alongside a makeshift dump of coconut husks and plastic bags, a village in Stung Meanchey commune in the capital’s Meanchey district has struggled to sleep for the past week. They fear the presence of a ghost.

In this village on July 8, 15-year-old Phal Narou was allegedly caught red-handed stealing from his neighbours. His hands were tied behind his back, and he was beaten.

Police yesterday said they are investigating Narou’s untimely death after his body was dredged up from a nearby lake last Monday.

Mob mentality often prevails in Cambodia when suspects – or in some cases innocent bystanders – are believed to have committed a crime. Part of the reason, observers have said, is frustration with the inability or unwillingness of the police and courts to mete out justice, prompting incensed villagers to take matters into their own hands.

What happened to Narou after the mob descended on him is disputed. His mother, Sok Noeun, 36, claims that she heard from no fewer than eight witnesses that Narou was chased into a lake and drowned by the villagers. The villagers, however, say they were going to hand the teenager over to local police when he sprinted away and drowned himself in the water.

It took two days to recover his body. When she saw her lifeless son, Noeun noted his head was split, several of his teeth were broken, and one eye was no longer in its socket. His autopsy simply said that his cause of death was drowning.

“I want to know who tied him up and beat him, what he stole and why they punished him in this way. If my son had a gun or a knife in his hand, I would accept it,” she said, breastfeeding her baby daughter. “I am very, very regretful for losing my son.”

She feared she had not been able to provide for her son, which led him down a tragic path. Narou’s father died in a car accident when he was just 1 year old, and in recent months Noeun sensed her son had fallen in with a bad crowd and might be addicted to drugs.

Sok Noeun, 36, sits with her 7-month-old daughter at her house in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
Sok Noeun, 36, sits with her 7-month-old daughter at her house in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. Erin Handley

In the days before his death, he declined to sleep in their tiny one-bedroom home and chose a tree for a bed instead. She began looking for rehabilitation centres for drug-addicted children.

On the day he died, she sliced her finger with a knife while cutting vegetables – a bad omen. “I do not ask for compensation or money, I just want to ask the one who did this ‘why?’, because he was so young.”

Villager Sreng Sreang, 30, said he believes angry locals – who had been plagued by break-ins for months – wanted to beat Narou “a little bit”, but they did not want to kill him.

Sreang says he was not present when Narou was attacked, but he knew police would question him. The contents of his house had been turned upside down, he suspects by Narou, but only one thing was stolen – his wife’s T-shirt. It was the same shirt Narou was wearing when he was found dead.

“We do not know much,” said fellow villager Chhorn Sreymom, 35. “Perhaps the people who lost property took revenge. He just drowned himself because he ran, because he was scared the villagers would beat him if he stayed.”

“We can’t sleep. We are scared of his ghost. The dogs keep barking.”

Villager Sreng Sreang said he believes angry villagers wanted to beat Narou a little bit, but they did not want to kill him
Villager Sreng Sreang said he believes angry villagers wanted to beat Narou a little bit, but they did not want to kill him. Erin Handley

Meanchey Deputy District Police Chief Hour Mengvang yesterday said he had built a case, which would be sent to court today. “After he was tied up, a crowd of people flocked in to beat him and then he was too freaked out and ran and thought that the water spot was ground because he saw it was full of grass,” Mengvang said, adding villagers he interviewed said they had attempted to save Narou.

“The case was unintentional murder because after they beat the suspect too much, he freaked out and that made him run . . . and he drowned.”

“If we are [talking about an accused person], it is the whole village who flocked to beat him.”

Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap said perpetrators must face the law, and those who took extrajudicial measures could also face court if authorities deemed their action was a crime. “Generally after having arrested a red-handed perpetrator, [they] must hand them over to the competent authority,” he said.

Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, said police have an obligation to investigate the circumstances of Narou’s death “regardless of whether or not he was involved in stealing beforehand”.

“It’s unfortunate and dangerous that so many Cambodians do not trust the police or courts to ensure due process and safety in their communities,” she said.

Like frustrated villagers, Noeun also feels let down by the police. The authorities had treated her like the perpetrator, she said, when she filed a complaint.

She clings to a shoe found near Narou’s body, hopeful it could provide clues to who was responsible for her son’s death.

“The police do not care about us,” she said.

“I do not even have one percent hope that the police will find justice.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants