KOMPONG CHAM - Heng Arth was having a big afternoon. After drinking 10 plastic bags
of herbal wine at his house, the Kompong Cham policeman went out for a couple more
drinks with a friend.
Arth remembers going to two restaurants, and thinks he had drunk about four big bottles
of toad wine before they reached the third bar. There, his memory begins to fade.
He woke up the next morning to find himself in Kompong Cham prison with a groggy
head, a bruised face and a swollen, black eye.
His crime? Verbally insulting the Cambodian Royalty in a moment of drunkenness in
His problem? Por Bun Sroeu, a Kompong Cham Member of Parliament and a deputy secretary-general
of the Royalist Funcinpec party, was in the same restaurant.
Bun Sroeu called in the military police after overhearing Arth, who was apparently
loudly complaining about Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his father
Arrested without a warrant for a vague offense of breaching constitutional law, Arth
has yet to see the inside of a courtroom - the prosecutors don't know what to charge
But for what human rights workers say was an expression of his opinions - even if
a rude one - Arth has faced arbitrary justice instead.
After his Oct 2 arrest, he spent a month and 24 days in Kompong Cham prison while
discussions about his fate were apparently bandied around Bun Sroeu, the police and
local court staff.
When a human rights group secured his release from prison - on the grounds he hadn't
been charged with anything - he was promptly transferred to the Kompong Cham police
commissariat for "administrative sanction".
"He wasn't really detained, but prohibited from getting out of the compound...in
order to prevent him getting on any more alcohol," according to Chhim Chhoeun
of the penal police.
Eventually, after Arth promised he wasn't running anywhere, he was allowed some freedom
to return home to see his wife and five children.
Since then, he said he had been kind of "half-detained, half-free". He
had neither been told that he was a free man, nor that he would be charged.
As for whether he committed any crime, Arth doesn't know - he doesn't remember.
"I don't remember saying anything, being handcuffed, anything... I didn't even
remember being beaten."
The morning after - when he realized that the police had "handcuffed me, beat
me, broke my eyebrow and took me to the provincial prison" - the prison chief
told him he had "said something affecting the leader of the country."
Arth has been told that he insulted Ranariddh but, according to Por Bun Sroeu, he
also abused the name of His Majesty the King.
Bun Sroeu, in a letter he wrote to the police, said he heard Arth use a derogatory
word while loudly complaining that His Majesty "has caused the people to suffer."
"This violates the constitutional law," Bun Sroeu wrote. "I...decided
to arrest and send him to the Kompong Cham provincial military headquarters to decide
according to the law."
According to a local court official, who would not be named, it was initially proposed
that Arth be detained for "a few days" for "administrative sanction"
by his superiors.
"Por Bun Sroeu did not agree and asked that they [the police] file a case to
the court against the man," the official said.
Arth was interviewed by a prosecutor about his alleged insults of Ranariddh, which
were said to include things such as "Why should we believe that man [Ranariddh],
he's only bringing more suffering to the people."
The prosecutor is understood to have written to Minister of Justice Chem Snguon asking
him to contact Prince Ranariddh to see if he wants to file a complaint.
The official said that a charge of "insulting" Ranariddh or of lese majeste
might be possible, because the words Arth used were "insulting enough if a person
of Royal title is concerned."
But the official said no action would be taken unless Ranariddh complained, and the
case was not a serious one.
"I want to be clear that the court did not issue any order for his [Arth's]
detention," the official noted.
Legally and constitutionally, people cannot be arbitrarily detained without a warrant
or without being put before a judge within 48 hours.
Bun Sroeu - who is also a Lieutenant General on the Interior Ministry's National
Defense Committee and a "special envoy" of both Prime Ministers - did not
want to comment to the Post .
But in a brief conversation said: "He was insulting the King. It was not for
me, but for the law, for the government [that Arth was arrested.]"
Bun Sroeu confirmed that he believed Arth should go to court, saying: "Bring
him to go to court. I'm not the judge. It's up to the judge to decide."
Asked what part of the Constitution Arth had allegedly breached, Bun Sroeu said:
"I don't know."
Chhim Chhoeun, Arth's superior, said Arth had abused both Ranariddh and the King.
Chhoeun was unable to say what law Arth had broken but said the Constitution stated
that "the King shall be inviolable."
But as far as the police were concerned, Arth would face no further punishment or
criminal charges, Chhoeun said. His main punishment had been "some lectures"
from his superiors that "it is not proper to get yourself drunk and abuse somebody
of high position."
Arth was "more or less" back at work now, though official clearance for
him to be transferred to another unit was being awaited, Chhoeun said.
Arth, who was a campaign worker for Funcinpec before the 1993 general election, did
not want to discuss politics but said he did not mean to offend anybody.
"I joined Funcinpec because I loved the King. Our country cannot be without
"I would like to apologize to Prince Ranariddh because I was drunk, I had no
intention to insult him at all."