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Beaten activists are now suspects

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Licadho's head of monitoring, Am Sam Ath, speaks to the press after he was hit by security forces at a World Habitat Day march last year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Beaten activists are now suspects

A human rights monitor and a land rights activist who were beaten by Daun Penh security guards during a protest last October will appear for questioning at Phnom Penh Municipal Court this afternoon as suspects of “intentional violence”.

In documents dated January 20, deputy prosecutor Ngin Pich ordered Licadho technical adviser Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak of the Boeung Kak lake community to appear before the court, after two security guards – Teth Chanthu and Sam Sotheara – complained they were injured by the pair in a brawl on World Habitat Day.

In a video widely disseminated after the event, the guards – who became notorious for violent crackdowns in the wake of the 2013 election – can be seen snatching a drum away from protesters, then beating Puthisak’s head.

The footage also shows Sam Ath attempting to intervene before he, too, is punched in the face by guards. An incredulous Sam Ath yesterday said he and Puthisak had filed their own complaint to the Chey Chumneah commune police station after receiving facial injuries in the attack.

“It is so ironic. I am speechless after having received the summons,” Sam Ath said. “[It can be] seen clearly on social media pictures that I was surrounded and beaten by five or six security guards, and I was helped by the people – if not, I would had got serious injuries or lost my life.”

He said the case was a “disgusting” attempt to defame him, and the security guards should not be able to get away with violence without recourse.

Puthisak described the case as a threat to freedom of expression. “This is an injustice for me because the victim becomes the suspect,” he said, adding he still had not heard any update about the complaint they lodged.

Chey Chumneah commune police chief Chhorn Kaony yesterday told The Post that authorities had received both complaints on the same day and had duly forwarded them to the district level a few days later.

“The security guards filed a complaint [saying] that they had been injured after the incident,” he said. Daun Penh Governor Sok Penvuth declined to comment.

Court spokesman Ly Sophana said the prosecutor was assessing all documents, evidence and witness testimony. He said both complaints were being considered together, before hanging up.

Several international human rights groups yesterday lambasted the move and urged Cambodian authorities to “immediately drop the politically motivated criminal investigation” in a joint statement yesterday.

Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International, described the investigation as “a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment”.

“As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings,” she said.

Kingsley Abbott, senior international legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, said Sam Ath and Puthisak should be commended by the government for their work promoting human rights, not intimidated through the judiciary.

“The case should be immediately and formally closed and a genuine investigation initiated into wrongful use of force by the para-police,” he said.

A Justice Ministry spokesperson yesterday said such groups should not interfere with Cambodia’s judicial process. “The court has independence, so the international organisations should be checking our laws and must understand about our legal system,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who in the past has called for the “illegal” security forces to be reined in, said this was yet “another blatant case of reinforcing the use of violence and force committed by these hired security guards” and urged the court to study all video footage captured of the attack.

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