When Chin Chanthy’s husband was shot after approaching the Kbal Thnal sky bridge on Sunday, he was surrounded by authorities clad in black body armour, wielding cattle prods and electrified riot shields and firing live ammunition into crowds of people, she was shocked to learn from him.
The 39-year-old wife of Neang Ratana, a construction worker hospitalised with a bullet wound in his neck, yesterday described the violence as barbaric.
“The police were shooting people like they were shooting animals,” Chin said, speaking at the bedside of her husband, who has been in hospital since early Monday morning.
A statement released by a coalition of civil society organisations yesterday sharply condemned police violence that led to the death of Mao Sok Chan, 29, and the hospitalisation of nine others. Eight of the nine, notes the statement, “were found to have bullet wounds, [and] many more young men, including teenagers, were beaten bloody by police.”
Three men were taken to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, one with a bullet in his forearm, another with his leg fractured by a bullet and a third suffering from head lacerations after allegedly being beaten by police.
Another six men were taken to Calmette Hospital, each of them wounded by bullets.
Sok Chan, a 29-year-old father of four, was shot in the forehead and killed – caught in the crossfire on his way to help protect a friend’s newsstand west of the bridge, according to his father, Mao Mong, 52.
“If he had listened to his wife, he would not have died. She asked him to stay home, but he went anyway, because he wasn’t [planning or] willing to join the protest,” Mong told the Post yesterday, adding that his son was uninvolved in politics.
Sok Chan was being paid 10,000 riel [$2.50] to sell newspapers the night he was killed, his wife said during his funeral yesterday at the Chak Angre Krom pagoda in Meanchey district.
Twenty-eight-year-old Cheav Sokvy’s eyes brimmed with tears yesterday as she spoke with reporters. Behind the young garment worker burned the body of her husband; her mother-in-law collapsed at the sight.
“My husband never cared about politics; he was just working to find more money to help support our family. Even though he’s dead, I will try my best to raise my daughter,” she said, adding she had filed a complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Sunday’s intense police brutality was a throwback to a decade ago, said Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott.
“Amnesty International will be releasing a statement condemning the lethal use of live ammunition against civilians, a shockingly excessive response to stone throwing,” he said.
Demonstrators and civilians accidentally netted in the chaos were pursued through darkened alleyways on Sunday against a crackling soundtrack of live ammunition and whistling smoke grenades.
Two eyewitnesses, a student and a Chbar Ampov II commune police officer unauthorised to speak to the press, contend tear gas was deployed near the commune police station.
“Police [were] hurt by [rocks] so we used tear gas and opened fire towards the sky but did not shoot at the protesters, we just wanted to threaten them,” the officer said yesterday.
But according to a source within medical personnel at the scene who wished to remain anonymous, tear gas and smoke bombs are easily confused.
“We did not see tear gas used at Chbar Ampov,” he said.
Un Sokheang, 27, was shot at about 9pm as he approached the overpass for a better look. His wife, Sun Phanna, 25, told the Post that even local vendors near the bridge scattered and abandoned their products following the sounds of gunshots.
“They shot many times and injured many people. I am so angry.… We did not think it would affect us, because it was between the Kbal Thnal overpass and old Preah Monivong Bridge,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Puk Resmey also mistook his proximity to danger as he went to eat sweets near the bridge and was shot in the right leg.
“I am not a protester. I hope my leg recovers soon, and then I will join in the demonstration, because I am so angry with our police officials,” he said.
Yesterday, King Norodom Sihamoni issued a rare public statement calling for non-violence and tolerance.
While six arrests have been confirmed, journalists on the scene also witnessed at least four men being dragged down darkened side streets and brutally beaten by police forces.
Abbott emphasised eyewitnesses saw civilians being beaten.
“What’s happened to all of these people that were being dragged down side streets?” he asked.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA AND KEVIN PONNIAH