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Sex worker’s death still unpunished

A woman at a memorial service holds flowers and a photo of Pen Kunthea, a Phnom Penh sex worker who drowned while attempting to flee from district security guards.
A woman at a memorial service holds flowers and a photo of Pen Kunthea, a Phnom Penh sex worker who drowned while attempting to flee from district security guards. Martin de Bourmont

Sex worker’s death still unpunished

A year after sex worker Pen Kunthea drowned in a tragic case implicating Phnom Penh’s most notorious security guards, no one has been held accountable for her death, despite numerous calls by women’s rights activists and former opposition lawmakers for an independent investigation.

The 33-year-old drowned on January 1 last year while being chased by Daun Penh district security guards near Wat Phnom. Jumping from one tourist boat to the next, she reportedly slipped and fell into the water, with her body only found two days later. The Daun Penh security guards allegedly did not help the drowning woman.

Despite six opposition lawmakers calling for an independent investigation into the case, no commission has been set up. One of the lawmakers was Mu Socha, the self-exiled deputy president of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, who said yesterday that she “never heard anything” in reaction to their letter demanding justice for Kunthea.

Chan Sophoan, of the Women’s Network for Unity, said she was not hopeful that investigations would bring results.

“I don’t think that they will find justice and a response to our demand [to solve the case],” she said.

Sophoan said after women’s rights activists had pushed for an investigation into the case for months, the court had asked Kunthea’s sister, Pen Meng Ky, to appear in court as a witness.

“She said she’s scared and worried because she got compensation by the municipality,” she said. “But it’s a criminal case, so she needs to be a witness.”

Meng Ky, who now takes care of the victim’s son, could not be reached yesterday.

Sophoan added that they would meet municipal officials on Friday to check for updates, but had recently been told that the court still needed “more time” for the investigation as they had only “started a few months ago”.

Thida Khus, executive director of women’s rights NGO Silaka, said despite violence against women being common, rarely were people held accountable.

“I think the impunity is . . . across the board,” she said. “The vulnerability of women – especially for women sex workers who face discrimination and violence and threats – is [huge] . . . [But] not many people pay attention to their plight because of the discrimination they face.”

It was of utmost importance, she said, that perpetrators were held accountable to prevent deaths and violence in the future.

Daun Penh District Police Chief Huot Chan Yaran said the case had already been sent to the court and directed further questions to District Governor Sok Penh Vuth, who could not be reached.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin and deputy administration chief Sous Vichyea Randy could also not be reached.

Additional reporting by Kong Meta

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