Some seven months after three Kandal police officers went on the lam after being accused of beating a man to death in custody – allegedly over a perceived slight – the men have been belatedly charged with aggravated intentional violence, a provincial prosecutor said yesterday.
Last week, the Kandal Provincial Court questioned witnesses and fellow officers, and yesterday Deputy Prosecutor Sam Rithyveasna said suspects Kheang Song Theng, Pheakdey Vithou and Chhay Sina had been charged in absentia and their case sent to the investigating judge.
“The action is up to the investigating judge,” Rithyveasna said. “I had charged them with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, because the victim died, under Article 224 of the Penal Code.”
However, despite the lengthy period since the commission of the alleged crime, So Sarin, provincial court spokesman, said the case was still being investigated, “and we have not set the date for the trial yet”.
The case has raised questions about the perceived reluctance ofpolice to take action against their own, particularly given officials’ initial account of how victim Chamroeun Seyha, 26, met his end.
Seyha died on Friday, October 21, with police at the time saying he had been beaten to death by a mob in Kandal’s Sa’ang district after attempting to steal suspect Chhay Sina’s motorbike.
Just days later, however, one of four people who were also beaten along with Seyha said Sina had stopped them on the road, apparently angry they had sped past him on their moto.
He and the other officers began beating the men on the street, he told the National Police at the time, before taking them to the station, where officers continued “beating us for an hour by kicking and kneeing us in our stomach”. Seyha was taken to the hospital upon their release, but succumbed to his injuries.
The same day the survivor’s account came out, a district police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the three suspects had apparently left town.
Even as eyewitness accounts supporting the survivor’s account continued to emerge, local police insisted the beating was delivered by a mob. After nearly a week, however, the provincial court and the National Police opened investigations into the officers’ involvement. The suspects were summonsed for questioning, but no arrests were made, and it remains unclear what efforts were made to find them.
Provincial Police Chief Eav Chamroeun, who had abandoned the mob beating account only after the investigations were launched, would only say yesterday that the “case is in the court’s [jurisdiction], contact the court”.
“It is out of my hands,” he added.
Sam Chankea, a spokesman for the rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the case followed a familiar pattern of police seemingly hesitating to go after their own, which in turn only perpetuated a culture of “impunity”.
“For the one that they want to arrest or crack down on, they will take immediate action within a week. But for people whom they consider a group or party that belongs to them, they will have no intention to find them,” he said.
Duch Piseth, advocacy director for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the Kandal case was more positive than some in that “at least [they] charged them”, but was nonetheless problematic.
“[The investigation] was quite long . . . We want to see a swift investigation. Delaying the investigation might affect the process of bringing justice for the victim,” he said.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith acknowledged yesterday that the suspects had not yet been caught but denied it had anything to do with the fact they were police officers.
“We do not take sides, and our principle is to implement the law,” he said.