Three soldiers who savagely beat two opposition lawmakers as they left the National Assembly last year will serve just one year of a four year prison term, a judge declared today after convicting the trio, who will walk free in five months given time served.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Heng Sokna did not provide any explanation for his decision to reduce the sentences of Mao Hoeung, 34, Sot Vanny, 45, and Chhay Sarith, 33, who are all members of the Prime Minister’s personal Bodyguard Unit.
“The court decides to sentence Chhay Sarith, Mao Hoeung and Sot Vanny each to four years in jail but they only have to serve one year in jail, the additional three years is suspended,” Sokna said.
“The court orders the three accused to together pay 6 million riel ($1500) to the state…and together pay compensation of 40 million riel ($9800) to the victim Nhay Chamroeun and 40 million riel ($9800) to the victim Kong Saphea.”
The verdict – deemed unacceptable by the victims’ lawyer – comes a day after Human Rights Watch released a report alleging the October 26 assault, which involved at least 16 attackers, was a state-backed operation planned and executed by the Prime Minister’s personal Bodyguard Unit.
Senior military sources told HRW they believed the government was attempting to shield the attack’s high-ranking organisers by limiting the case to just three men. Military and government officials deny this claim.
Cambodia National Rescue Party parliamentarians Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were dragged from their cars and repeatedly hit, kicked and stomped as they attempted to leave from a parliamentary plenary session.
The attack followed a mass rally against opposition leader Kem Sokha led by a youth group aligned to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and closely tied to the Bodyguard Unit of the premier, who alluded to the protest the night before it happened.
During the hearing, Sokna said the men had caused “public insecurity” and “damage to the personal health” of the lawmakers.
Sokna said there was sufficient evidence to convict the men of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances but not enough proof to find them guilty of a second charge of property damage for damaging the victims’ cars.
He noted that the men “came to confess with the police and were honest to the court at all stages of the investigation and hearing” and took the unusual step of comprehensively summarising all aspects of the suspect’s answers and confessions.
As part of this, he reiterated the suspects’ claim that they were not under orders but rather provoked because the lawmakers insulted them.
Video footage does not support this claim and the victims have vehemently denied saying anything to the group.
Saphea has also recalled overhearing an order to attack from one of the several walkie talkies used by the men.
During the trial the judge blocked questions about the men’s Bodyguard Unit commander, identified by the Post as Lieutenant General Deang Sarun, who was spotted outside the National Assembly during the protest, according to HRW.
Lawyer for the victims Sam Sokong said the verdict was not acceptable.
“We will talk to the clients and decide whether to appeal against the verdict or not,” Sokong said.
“The violence was brutal and those who committed the crimes were security forces, it was done in a team.
“The dropping of the charge of aggravated property damage is also not acceptable because this was a group attack, even without clear evidence these three committed [the property damage], this was done as a team.”
Sokong noted the men would be free around the time of the attack’s first anniversary.
“[The sentence] is too light. If they were sentenced to four years and served four years, that is acceptable [but] they will walk free soon.
“It seems the court wanted them to stay in jail for just one year.”