The Interior Ministry has issued a summons to 11 victims of a brutal 2013 crackdown by police and masked thugs at the capital’s Wat Phnom to answer questions regarding their nearly three-year-old complaint, which an investigator yesterday maintained had “just arrived” at his department.
Eleven people, including two elderly women, were injured when masked men and police descended on a peaceful vigil held by about 20 land dispute victims from the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities on September 22, 2013, amid tension over the disputed national election.
The attackers – who included police and men in plainclothes trucked to the demonstration – allegedly used slingshots, cattle prods and batons to attack protesters, human rights observers and journalists.
Following the crackdown, victims lodged a lawsuit with Phnom Penh Municipal Court against four Daun Penh district officials: Deputy District Governor Sok Penhvuth; director of order Kim Vutha; council official Pich Socheata; and deputy police chief Soa Nol.
The victims also submitted photographic and video evidence supporting their claims. Speaking yesterday, Ev Rith, the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s serious crimes department, said he requested 11 of the plaintiffs to come testify on Wednesday about the incident.
Though the summonses come amid a particularly heated political atmosphere, Rith said he was simply following protocol.
“The documents have just arrived and I have to take measures,” Rith said.
“For every case we prepare, we need the victims to clarify about what happened as plaintiffs. Normally, a case cannot be worked on unless it has the plaintiffs give their testimony.”
Pressed on the almost three-year delay in beginning the probe, Rith said the court had only recently forwarded the case.
“They filed the complaint to the court, but not to us … The court prepared the lawsuit and it has asked us to investigate further,” he said, adding the lag would not impact the investigation.
“It’s not too late to work on it now; the important thing is we have the will to work on it.”
Reached yesterday, Boeung Kak activist Phan Chhunret, among those injured in the attack, said she would attend the hearing but remained sceptical about the case’s sudden revival.
“The complaint has been filed for three years already and there is no progress. I wonder as well why the authorities just remembered now and called us,” Chhunret said.
“I have no trust. They are in the same group – some of the attackers were authorities wearing civilian clothes.”
Prominent Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny, whose mother was injured during the crackdown, said the activists would use the opportunity to make a point by applying fake blood and bandages before answering questions.
“It’s been three years and they think we have forgotten the pain, but we still hurt so we want to commemorate so the ministry knows it,” Vanny said, adding the community would gather “a lot” of people to pressure the ministry.
Political observer Ou Virak, who is currently facing a defamation claim brought by a ruling party spokesman, said he suspected the motives behind the case’s resurrection were political.
“In my case, as soon as the CPP filed the complaint, within a few days I got the summons … When activists file a complaint it takes two and a half years?” he asked.
“No wonder nobody has any confidence in the courts.”
Licadho technical coordinator Am Sam Ath, who was present at the 2013 rally, said he doubted the government’s sincerity.
“Now the Ministry of Interior has begun questioning? It is too late, I think, to seek justice for them … We would appreciate it if the Ministry of Interior identified the perpetrators, but I don’t have much faith.”