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Bodyguard Unit trio released one year after MP beatings

Chhay Sarith (left) and Sot Vanny exit a prisoner transport earlier this year at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Chhay Sarith (left) and Sot Vanny exit a prisoner transport earlier this year at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Pha Lina

Bodyguard Unit trio released one year after MP beatings

A little over a year since they brutally attacked two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly, three troops from the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit walked free on Friday, having completed the 12-month term of their four-year suspended sentence.

Director of operations at the Ministry of Interior’s general department of prisons Be Tealeng said Mao Hoeung, Sot Vanny and Chhay Sarith left Prey Sar prison following a court order on Thursday that determined their punishment was complete.

“They can go work or do other business like other prisoners can after they leave prison,” Tealeng said.

The trio were the only attackers punished over the gang assault of Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, despite video footage showing at least 16 men punching, kicking or pushing the pair after they were ripped from their cars as they tried to leave the parliament complex on October 26.

At their trial, the men claimed that they were provoked by the victims, a claim not corroborated by video evidence of the incident.

However, evidence that emerged outside the courtroom suggested the attack was coordinated and staged from a Bodyguard Unit base in Kandal province’s Takhmao district, commanded by Lieutenant General Deang Sarun.

Lawyers for the victims were blocked by judges from asking about the trio’s superiors.

Though the group testified in court to being Bodyguard Unit soldiers, Ith Thaorath, a spokesman for Bodyguard Unit chief Hing Bun Heang, yesterday tried to claim the trio were never part of the organisation when asked whether they would resume their previous roles.

“We do not have these three people’s names,” he insisted, despite being reminded of the court testimony and documents that established their positions within the unit.

Yesterday, a few hundred metres from a compound housing the Bodyguard Unit’s main base in Takhmao, Vanny’s neighbours offered only vague answers when asked about the soldier, whose house was seemingly shuttered.

“We haven’t seen him,” one of three men drinking outside said, before refusing to give his name.A group of women nearby, who also declined to give their names, said Vanny’s wife was currently planning a dinner and had invited neighbours, though they said they didn’t know the occasion.

Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party have repeatedly tried to distance themselves from the attack, which was preceded by a mass pro-CPP rally against CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha outside the assembly.

Speaking yesterday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the reason behind the beatings, short jail sentences and lack of further arrests was clear.

“You can see the case is related to politics. You can see that they beat two MPs in front of the symbol of democracy, in front of the National Assembly building, and they only get one year in prison. But the people who speak in the interests of the Cambodia, for the interests of the people, they are jailed for 20 years,” Sovann said.

The spokesman was referring to CNRP activists sentenced to 20 years over a 2014 opposition rally that descended into violence.

“It’s a culture of impunity and injustice in society,” he added.

Calling for the men to be dismissed from any role in the security forces, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, echoed that sentiment, saying the trio’s punishment amounted to a “slap on the wrist”.

“The scapegoats are now set free and the masterminds will never be held accountable, and that is a damning commentary on the state of justice in Cambodia today,” Robertson said.

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