The Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a warrant yesterday summoning human rights activists Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak to court today on charges that they incited an attack on two Daun Penh district security guards during a World Habitat Day protest on October 10.
Videos of the protest show Mr. Puthisak, a Boeung Kak community representative, attempting to reason with security guards who were taking a protester’s drum.
The Daun Penh guards then allegedly beat Mr. Puthisak in full view of dozens of protesters and cameras.
Mr. Sam Ath, a senior monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, tried to stop the assault but was also allegedly beaten. Both men sustained serious injuries and were forced to seek medical attention after the protest.
However, on November 4, two of the security guards involved in the beating filed a complaint claiming they were injured during the fracas. The warrant says Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak are accused of “instigating intentional violence” under articles 27 and 217 of the Criminal Code.
The men face up to three years in prison if found guilty.
Mr. Sam Ath, who went to the protest as a monitor and to celebrate the day, said he was speechless after receiving the warrant because many of those attacked by the security forces that day have filed complaints with the police, only to be ignored.
“On that day, I went to monitor violence by the Phnom Penh security guards on the people,” he said. “As I tried to stop a violent confrontation from continuing, I was also attacked.
“I filed a complaint to the Chey Chumneah commune police station in Daun Penh district.
“After that, the report was sent to the prosecutor. I am the victim and yet I have become a suspect instead. I am without words.”
He told Khmer Times he will attend his court date today to explain the situation to the prosecutor.
“There were about five to six security guards who did something contrary to their mandate, which affects the government’s reputation as they try to develop the country,” he added.
Licadho’s director Thav Kimsan said the summons issued shows the bias the authorities have against peaceful gatherings. They were beaten by security guards while trying to prevent violence from continuing, yet they are the ones now under investigation, he said.
“This shows the impunity of the security guards who have committed this violence,” he said.
Court prosecutor Ngin Pich did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists released a statement yesterday condemning the summons and demanding the government not only drop the charges, but investigate the security guards who attacked peaceful demonstrators.
“The investigation of Sam Ath and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International.
“As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”
The international rights groups said the charges against the two men “falls within a wider pattern of judicial intimidation in Cambodia.”
They criticized the government’s support for the Daun Penh district security force, calling it an “auxiliary security force” that is routinely used to “violently suppress demonstrations in Cambodia.”
There are no legal documents or official edicts governing the group and they are sanctioned through a “confusing combination of government statements and policies, and by instructions from the Ministry of Interior,” the groups said.
The group became widely known after participating in the Freedom Park riots of 2013, which saw them clash with protesters.
In November, eight members of the opposition CNRP asked the Interior Ministry to investigate the shadowy group, writing that the use of the security guards as a de facto police force was illegal and those involved in the group should be arrested and charged.
Daun Penh governor Kuoch Chamroeun said his use of the security guards was justified for “security reasons,” but would not say where the men were hired from, what their training or qualifications were, who was in charge and if they were accountable for their actions.
“The Cambodian government should be commending people like Sam Ath and Puthisak for their work to promote and protect human rights rather than trying to intimidate them,” said Kingsley Abbott, a senior international legal advisor at the International Commission of Jurists.
“The case should be immediately and formally closed and a genuine investigation initiated into wrongful use of force by the para-police.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Greig.
Source: Khmer Times