Police in Oddar Meanchey province allegedly beat an employee of local NGO Equitable Cambodia on Saturday, in what the group has called the latest effort to block its operations in the area.
Equitable Cambodia officer Chan Vichet said he was driving villagers evicted by an Angkor Sugar plantation back to their homes following interviews at local rights group Adhoc’s provincial office when police stopped the car.
“They said that I do not have enough documents.… They do not check like this with other cars. It is not fair; it is an effort to suppress my work,” Vichet said.
According to Vichet, things turned violent when he attempted to take photographs of provincial deputy police chief Nhul Vuth.
“Vuth strongly grabbed the camera from me, but he did not manage to [take it], so he punched me in the stomach,” he said. “I warned him that if he beat me, I could file a complaint … [so] he walked away and brought my car to the police station.”
Vichet said that after the appropriate documentation arrived, police told him they would only release the vehicle if he agreed to delete the photographs but eventually gave up on their demands.
Vuth, the deputy police chief, dismissed Vichet’s version of events, explaining that he had been “framed”.
“We inspected all the cars.… The authorities have not committed violence. If we did not comply with the procedures, he can file a complaint against us,” he said.
Saturday’s alleged violence came just three days after Oddar Meanchey police broke up a meeting between Equitable Cambodia staff and the evicted villagers.
In September, two Equitable Cambodia staff were detained by local police while visiting evicted families and driven back to the capital.
Eang Vuthy, the executive director of Equitable Cambodia, said Saturday’s incident was just another example of local authorities “creating pretexts to stop our activity”.
He added that he would meet with lawyers this week to discuss what action to take.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY