A policeman who stole a moto-bike with his girlfriend was beaten to death, witnesses
say, by arresting police officers - including one wielding a metal petanque ball,
in Takhmau on March 1.
The policemen deny they beat the robber, Ok Phea.
They say they were unable to stop an angry mob from attacking Phea - a version that
doesn't tally with what witnesses told the Post - and that Phea died eight days later
in a hospital.
Chann Nary, who lived with Phea as his wife and is five months pregnant, said: "The
police beat him and me. Now my husband is dead."
On March 1 Phea hatched a plan to steal a motorbike for money. Nary said: "I
tried to persuade him not to but he would have beaten me if I refused to follow him."
Phea and Nary hired a moto at the Kbal Khnal market near the Vietnamese bridge, and
got the driver to take Nary to Pra Houk, about ten kilometers south of the capital.
Phea followed them on his own moto. When they arrived in Pra Houk, Phea threatened
the driver with his gun and told him to flee.
"The moto driver walked off into a field and I took his moto and drove back
to Phnom Penh," explained Nary.
The moto driver alerted police in Pra Houk, who in turn contacted the Takhmau criminal
Nary followed her husband in crashing a road block in Takhmau, but they were chased
and soon caught by seven policemen.
According to an old woman selling ice cream near where the couple were caught, at
least two of the policemen beat Phea.
"He did not want to give his gun to the policemen so they beat him with their
guns," she said.
An angry mob gathered around the pair back at Takhmau police station. During this
time, say police, Phea was beaten up and would later to die.
But witnesses and Nary say different. "When (Phea) entered in the police station
he was walking by himself. The next day police asked for a towing bicycle to take
him to jail. He was unconscious and I could hardly recognize his face," said
a vendor who works at the police station gate.
Takhmau police deputy Long Pha explained that the robber had been beaten by bystanders.
"Most of the people at the scene were moto drivers. They always get angry against
robbers because they are the first victims of the moto thieves. They started to beat
him. Police did not succeed in protecting him. Even some of my men got injured by
stones being thrown."
"They beat them in front of the police station during four to five minutes and
Ok Phea fell unconscious before he got in to the station." he said.
Channy, a fruit juice vendor who entered the police compound with a crowd of other
people said: "The policemen beat the man a lot with a petanque ball. I only
saw them whack the woman [with open hand]."
Another onlooker said: "As [Phea] got to the police station, he was on his feet.
He fell unconscious after two policemen and two people beat him inside the compound."
According to him, after the robber fell unconscious, two policemen brought him in
a room "where only policemen can enter".
Deputy Long Pha said: "Maybe those people get confused because some of the civilians
were wearing police trousers, but they were not police."
Nary said the policemen kept on beating them in two separate rooms that the afternoon
When Phea arrived in the jail the next day, the director of the prison noted that
his face was bruised, and he could neither walk nor talk.
"He had serious injuries and we kept him three days before sending him to hospital.
He needed more treatment than what we could provide in the jail," said Nourm
Leng, the deputy director of the prison.
Hospital officials confirmed that Phea had severe head injuries and was unconscious
when he arrived in hospital. He fell deeper and deeper into coma and died about five
days after admission.
Hy Sophea, the court president, said that the judge was not able to interview Phea
when he was in the jail.
"The report of the police is that the mob beat the two accused where they had
been arrested. No-one who is supposed to have beaten the couple had been arrested,"
Prosecutor Chheng Pherth said that he would begin an investigation into the death
Sophea said that accused robbers were likely in danger if police did not arrest them
"We have to tell the people to let the police do their job. If they want, people
can arrest robbers but they should not touch them," he added.