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Bridge death haunts family

Riot police retreat from civilians throwing projectiles during a violent clash on the Kbal Thnal overpass in Phnom Penh last September
Riot police retreat from civilians throwing projectiles during a violent clash on the Kbal Thnal overpass in Phnom Penh last September, during which a man was shot and killed. Pha Lina

Bridge death haunts family

While yesterday marked a year since the death of 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan – shot dead by security forces during clashes at a Phnom Penh bridge – his family is still waiting for justice.

Sok Chan’s mother, 57-year-old Tith Sang, told the Post that after a year of waiting, she remained in the dark about the truth behind her son’s death.

“I waited for the result of the authorities’ investigation … but until now, it has been hidden. The gunman has still not been found, while my son is dead. There is still no justice,” she said.

Sang added that she did “not believe” the government’s investigation would offer any “real justice” but hoped she would be proved wrong.

“I still demand that government officials find and arrest the gunman who shot my son to death and sentence him,” she said.

Construction worker Chan had been trying to return home across the Kbal Thnal overpass on the evening of September 15, 2013. Opposition protests elsewhere in the city had resulted in extensive roadblocks, with angry drivers on the bridge engaging in an unruly ad hoc protest against authorities there. Police ultimately opened fire on the crowds, fatally shooting Sok Chan in the head.

In addition to his death, numerous people were injured by police wielding electric prods and batons, and shooting live ammunition to disperse what they called a violent mob.

Sang said that financial donations from, among others, the Cambodia National Rescue Party and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, had paid for Sok Chan’s funeral and funded a plot of land for her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to “build a home and make a life”.

But the money has since dried up, and Sok Chan’s widow, 30-year-old Kiv Sokvy, now endures a daily struggle to raise her four young children alone and with little money.

Sokvy said plans to hold a ceremony to mark the anniversary of her husband’s death had not been possible because of financial constraints.

“I wanted to do it for him, but I couldn’t, because I don’t have enough money,” she said in tears, adding that she and her four daughters, aged between 2 and 7, prayed for him at the pagoda yesterday morning.

In a statement released yesterday to mark the International Day of Democracy, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights criticised the authorities for ignoring Sok Chan’s death.

“To date, no transparent and independent investigation has been undertaken into the actions of the security forces on that night, despite promises by the Minister of Interior to investigate these events,” the statement reads, adding that it is an example of the way impunity hinders Cambodia’s development.

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that the government had fulfilled its job of investigating the incident.

“There have been investigations.… The government [investigation] is done; the court’s is still ongoing,” Siphan said.

When asked if the results of the investigation would be made public and if anyone would ever be prosecuted over Sok Chan’s death, Siphan said: “We let the court decide.”

National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito referred all questions about the investigation to the Interior Ministry.

Interior Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday, while municipal court spokesman Ly Sophanna said he was “out of the office” and could not answer a reporter’s questions.

Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann told the Post that the CNRP planned to bring the issue to the National Assembly.

“We need to bring the killer to justice; killing people is criminal,” Sovann said. “Criminality lasts forever unless they are prosecuted.”

Sovann added that the party also wanted transparent investigations into the deaths of at least five others killed by security forces during a garment strike in early January. Those killings have also seen no prosecutions.

“We want to eliminate a culture of impunity,” he said.

But Ny Chakrya, chief investigator at rights group Adhoc, said an investigation was unnecessary as the culprits were already well-known. “This case doesn’t need investigation, because we have all the evidence. At the time, it was police and military police there,” he said.

Chakrya added that an independent judiciary was the key to justice being achieved.

“It’s very clear to see [this] as evidence that the court is not independent from politics. It is a tool of the ruling party,” he said.

But for Sok Chan’s family, the politics surrounding their loss is meaningless.

Remembering the times she shared with her husband, Sokvy said the past year has been “the worst” of her life.

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