The leak of explicit photos of the topless body of slain singer San Sreylai to social media – presumably by a police official – drew widespread condemnation from the public yesterday, prompting Phnom Penh’s top police official to announce an investigation.
Sreylai, a 23-year-old former finalist on The Voice Cambodia, was gunned down by her estranged husband on Monday afternoon after what family and friends described as years of physical and emotional abuse at his hands.
The grisly photos appear to be taken by an investigator who was examining Sreylai’s body and show the young singer lying in a pool of blood, surrounded by at least three men, without her shirt. Her sports bra is pulled up to her neck to expose her breasts and a bullet wound to her chest.
The photo quickly made its way onto social media and messaging groups, where it was met with shock and horror.
“This is so cruel and difficult to believe,” said Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, who said the case put the issue of violence against women back into the spotlight.
Policymakers “feel that it is not important”, Sopheap said. “And of course, all of them are men.”
Khourn Chantevy, a women’s rights team leader at ActionAid, said it was particularly chilling that Sreylai was victimised not only by her husband, but again by the police “who are supposed to act as protectors”.
She said the photographs send a message to women “that the objectification and sexualisation of our bodies can continue even after death, which is a harrowing realisation”.
Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Choun Sovann and Minister of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached yesterday. However, in an interview with government-aligned Fresh News, Sovann promised to investigate.
“I will not tolerate this,” Sovann told the outlet. “It affects the dignity of the corpse and it affects the professionalism and code of ethics of our police.”
Fresh News also quoted chief of forensics Lanh Yovma, who said that investigators did not yet know who took the photographs because commune police, district police, Military Police and other government officials were all at the crime scene.
But opposition leader Mu Sochua, who was minister of women’s affairs from 1998 to 2004, said she was sceptical that police would find the perpetrator, and called for “deep, deep, deep, systemic reforms”.
Calling the photographs “irresponsible, unethical, unprofessional”, Sochua called for women in Cambodia “to be more outspoken – totally outspoken – to lead, to have courage, or else things are not going to change”.
Sochua also challenged the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to be more active in fighting for policy changes and stricter law enforcement, particularly for female entertainers and entertainment workers.
“The Women’s Ministry seems to show a lack of attention on behalf of women in the entertainment industry,” Sochua said. “The women’s ministry should be the one to act swiftly . . . Yet it’s silence after silence, case after case.”
Sor Sineth, the deputy chief of the Legal Department at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, condemned the photographs as “unacceptable” and defended the ministry’s work, including its efforts to develop a code of conduct for media organisations reporting on violence against women.
“People have to value women, even if they’re dead. They need to give respect to her and her family,” Sineth said. But Ly Pharom, a women’s rights activist, said the ministry was still not active enough in campaigning for policy changes and stricter enforcement of the law to protect women.
“It’s not right that a police official would do that,” Pharom said.
“I want to see more responsibility from the government, especially the Ministry of Women’s Affairs . . . to push for punishment for anyone who distributed naked photographs, not just a statement.”