Source: Khmer Times
Victims and families of those affected by the 2014 Veng Sreng street protest, when police killed four and injured dozens more, gathered on that same street in Svay Rieng province yesterday to call on the judiciary to stop its bias in the prosecution of those responsible for the violence.
The 50 participants of the commemoration ceremony recalled the violence during the protests when military police fired live ammunition into the crowd and beat up protesters in a bid to clear the crowd. More than 20 protesters were also arrested.
Those arrested were given lengthy sentences, but freed after six months on the condition they not commit any other crimes. Many are now stuck in a perpetual state of judicial limbo – free to walk the streets, but with lengthy sentences hanging over their heads.
“We do not want to see law enforcement in Cambodia have two different standards,” Coalition of Cambodia Farmers Community secretary-general Theng Savoeun, who was assaulted during the 2014 protest, said yesterday.
“We want justice for all the victims in front of Yakjin factory on Veng Sreng Street. What we had was a belief in our justice system, but now I do not care to spend time on the current justice system without there being independence in this country as well.”
Mr. Savoeun, who was badly beaten by police, was arrested, charged and given a four-and-a-half-year suspended sentence as well as an eight million riel fine (about $2,000). He spent six months in prison before being released.
However, Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin rejected the accusations of a double standard, saying the judicial system had always been impartial.
“Competent authorities and courts investigated the case based on evidence, facts, witness statements and statements from relevant parties,” he said.
“It does not mean that all those who attacked protesters were in the wrong.
“Sometimes, authorities have to use strong-arm tactics to protect social order, public security or the interest of the general public. So it depends on the circumstances and elements of the offense.
“They may have misunderstood the legal processing of the facts.”
The gathering yesterday was organized by Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association president Vorn Pov, who was also assaulted and injured during the 2014 protest.
He too called for an impartial judiciary and urged the public and activists to never forget the day’s violent clashes.
Garment workers started protesting against the meager minimum wage hike – from $80 to $95 – on Christmas Day 2013, demanding a $160 salary. Ten days later, military and police forces cleared the thousands of protesters and opened fire on the rioters when it turned violent.
The government later said the military officers were justified in shooting protesters because they were damaging property and throwing rocks. One police officer, they claimed, lost an eye because of the rocks thrown by protesters.