A mob beat a man to death in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Monday evening after he allegedly robbed a woman at gunpoint and shot two people who gave chase.
Meanchey District Police Chief Ten Sino, when asked about the name and age of the man who died, would say only that police “are investigating” and that he was beaten to death. He hung up on a Post reporter without giving more details of the investigation, including whether participants in the mob are also being sought.
Villagers at the scene said the man had robbed a woman who was counting money on a wooden bed outside her home at gunpoint, then shot two men who tried to knock him off of his motorbike.
“After he had been dragged off the motorbike, a few villagers and workers beat him up then more people came and punched him and kicked him,” said Um Touch Voeun, an area resident.
“After they killed him, they felt relaxed because they had released their anger with him and they feel happy.”
The beating, which took place in Boeung Tompun commune, is the second mob killing in Meanchey district this year. In March, villagers in nearby Stung Meanchey commune beat a 15-year-old boy to death after allegedly catching him stealing from his neighbours.
According to observers, mob mentality is especially prevalent in countries where rule of law is perceived to be weak and trust in authorities is low.
Roderic Broadhurst, an Australian National University criminology professor who studies violence in Cambodia, said Monday’s incident sounded like a case of so-called “achieved” justice.
“This is maybe because [the locals] don’t trust the justice system to ensure justice, but [it is] often mixed too with the contagious violence of the moment,” Broadhurst said in an email.
“The more people involved the less easy it is to identify and prosecute the murderers,” Broadhurst added. “However, policing agencies should make every effort to discourage such acts and bring those involved to court for breaches of the law.”
Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s deputy director of advocacy, called the incident an “injustice on both sides”.
“Of the mob killings we have tried to investigate in the past, most people in communities expressed hopelessness and anger about the lack of capability and intention of law enforcement and court enforcement to enforce justice unless connections and money are at play,” she said.
Villagers in Boeng Tompun commune expressed no regrets about the man’s death, saying that they did not trust police to bring robbers to justice.
“People executed him publicly because the authorities can hide and conspire with them,” 35-year-old Chea Narin said. “We do not want robberies again and again – we see that police arrest them but the robberies keep happening.”
Visal, a 22-year-old villager who would give only his first name, said that he saw roughly 100 people beating the man with wood, rocks and their hands and feet.
According to him, villagers believe that the police and robbers are often “on the same team”.
“They did not want to keep him and give him to the police so they had to kill him,” Visal said. “He deserved to die.”