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Silence broken at last

Men detained by military police lie on the ground with their hands bound at the scene of deadly clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard
Men detained by military police lie on the ground with their hands bound at the scene of deadly clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard on Friday. RFA

Silence broken at last

Notification that her son is being detained at Correctional Centre 3 in Kampong Cham came as a relief to Touch Sart yesterday, after spending nearly a week wondering whether he was even alive.

Since her son, Theng Saroeun, was arrested along with 22 others at demonstrations last Thursday and Friday, police, court and prison officials have refused to confirm the identities or whereabouts of those detained. After six days of silence, prison officials yesterday finally allowed family members, lawyers and a doctor to visit them.

“My son is badly hurt, he was beaten seriously and could not eat,” Sart said. “He received seven stitches.”

The fact that they have spent nearly a week of detention without access to their families or lawyers – a violation of defendants’ rights in Cambodia – and held in an isolated prison far from their Phnom Penh homes indicates the government’s strong desire to keep them cut off from supporters, Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said.

The defendants – one of them a 17-year-old – were arrested on Thursday and Friday amid protests in Por Sen Chey district. Ten were arrested during a rally in front of Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc on Thursday, after, witnesses said, military officials guarding the factory initiated clashes with demonstrators.

Another 13 were arrested on Friday, when authorities opened fire with automatic rifles on protesters in and around Canadia Industrial Park. Licadho and rights group Adhoc have reported that the shootings killed four people, but Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Ho Vann said on Monday that six people were killed in the crackdown, according to families who notified him.

All 23 defendants were charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and intentional damage with aggravating circumstances.

If convicted of both crimes, each person could receive up to five years in prison and fines of $1,000 to $2,500.

Keeping the prisoners without access to their families or legal representation for as long as authorities did is an outrageous departure from normal due process in Cambodia, Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said.

“It’s completely outlandish, and I think that the stakeholders who are responsible for this behaviour have underestimated the blowback from the international community,” Welsh said yesterday.

Attorney Choung Choungy, who is representing some of the defendants, echoed that the conditions of their detention were contrary to Cambodian law, adding that he will file a complaint.

CC3 director Chea Vanna declined to comment yesterday, referring a Post reporter to Kouy Bunson, director of the General Department of Prisons, who Vanna said ordered the detainment.

Bunson could not be reached yesterday.

A doctor who visited the prisoners yesterday examined 20 of the detained protesters, Pilorge of Licadho said. Some of the defendants, including Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), had been severely beaten and were treated at the military base at which some were initially detained – also a violation of the law, Pilorge noted.

When Prak Sovanary visited her husband, Pov, yesterday, she learned that in addition to head wounds, for which he received stitches, soldiers had hit him in his kidneys when beating him during and after his arrest, Sovanary said.

Pov underwent kidney surgery in March last year.

“My husband said that he ate nothing and he cried every day since he was kept from his family and an attorney; he is hopeless,” Sovanary said. “He said that he has not done anything wrong, he just went there to observe the protest.”

NGOs have provided all 23 defendants with attorneys, whose next course of action is to request bail, Pilorge said.

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