Chilling Account of Attacks on Legislators in Cambodia: HRW
Nov.2, Bangkok: Two opposition members of parliament described in chilling detail how an organized group dragged them from their cars and beat them as they tried to leave Cambodia’s National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on October 26, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the surrender of those who attacked Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) members of parliament Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen, who are recuperating from serious injuries in a Bangkok hospital. However, the police have made no arrests, despite extensive video and photo coverage of the attacks.
“The brazen nature of these brutal attacks on members of parliament sends the message that the little remaining democratic space in Cambodia is seriously threatened,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Donor governments should make clear that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s condemnation of the attacks only has credibility if he calls for an independent UN investigation.”
Human Rights Watch said the government should ask the Cambodia field office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into the attack, and make a commitment to act on its findings.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen as they lay in their hospital beds in Bangkok, and spoke with other witnesses to the assaults.
The two men told Human Rights Watch that when they arrived at the National Assembly on October 26, the barbed wire barricades that normally surround the building for protection during parliamentary sessions were not set up. Guards told them on entering the building that the security scanners were not functioning.
Later that morning, several thousand “protesters” gathered outside the National Assembly to demand the removal of Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition CNRP, from his post as National Assembly first vice-chairman. Witnesses and photographs identified elements of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit in civilian dress and non-uniformed members of units under the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, including regular and para-police.
While the demonstrations continued outside, at about noon, after casting their last parliamentary vote for the day, Sophea and Chamraoen attempted to leave the National Assembly compound in separate cars. Both cars approached their usual exit gate on the northwest corner to find the gate closed, with a guard directing them south toward the main west gate. After arriving at the west gate, both cars were again turned away by a guard, although another car was allowed to exit just ahead of them. Sophea and Chamraoen then drove to the rarely used “side” exit to the south of the National Assembly.
Sophea said that his driver told him that after the car turned from the gate, he saw a man in a red hat across the street speak into a walkie-talkie and gesture at their car. After heading down the street a short distance, their car was blocked by another man holding a walkie-talkie. Soon, a crowd of roughly 20 to 30 men surrounded their car. The man with the red hat opened the car door and, with two others, pulled Sophea out of his car and began punching and kicking him in the chest, head and back.
Altogether, the men beat Sophea three times as he got back into his car and was pulled out again. Video shows the last two times Sophea is pulled from his car while being kicked on the ground by his attackers. The beating only stopped when the men left Sophea to attack Chamraoen.
Chamraoen told Human Rights Watch that by the time he exited the gate in his vehicle, he could see that Sophea was being attacked about 10 meters ahead of him. Police were standing about five meters from Sophea’s car watching the violence – without attempting to stop it.
The assailants soon surrounded Chamraoen’s car, with one using a walkie-talkie to smash the car window, open the door, and drag Chamraoen out. He recalls seeing a man pointing at him from outside his car saying, “This one too!” The men began to punch and kick Chamraoen in the face, arms, and back. Video shows the end of Chamraoen’s attack, as an assailant stomping on his chest. While apparently struggling to remain conscious, he was helped back into the National Assembly.
Later that day, several hundred men arrived at Kem Sokha’s residence in northern Phnom Penh and hurled rocks and bottles at his home. Calls were made by Sokha and his wife to the Ministry of the Interior with no response for more than five hours, while Sokha’s wife hid inside in terror.
The injuries to Sophea and Chamraoen were extensive. Sophea suffered a broken nose and welts and bruises to his head. Repeated kicks to the back resulted in lingering lower-back pain. He suffered a sprained finger and a bruised shin. His right eardrum was torn, requiring an operation, and it is unclear whether he will recover full hearing in the ear. Chamraoen suffered three fractures in his right wrist. He underwent a five-hour operation on his eye socket, as a broken bone below the eye was pushing up into the socket, endangering the eye. He also has a broken nose, a broken front tooth, a bruised left wrist, and significant chest pain.
The two members of parliament told Human Rights Watch that they fear for their safety if they return to Cambodia.
The October 26 violence in Phnom Penh occurred days after demonstrators gathered in Paris to protest Hun Sen’s visit to meet with French President François Hollande. Hun Sen had warned of attacks against the CNRP if the rally against him went on as planned.
“This attack is sadly reminiscent of the March 30, 1997 grenade attack on opposition leader Sam Rainsy that killed 16 and injured more than 150, when the police stood down and Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit was implicated,” Adams said. “Those responsible for the 1997 attack were never prosecuted, so Cambodia’s donors should send a clear message that government involvement in the attack on members of parliament will have consequences for their relationship and assistance.”
On October 30, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) organized a session of the National Assembly to remove Kem Sokha from his post as vice-chairperson of the parliament. The session was boycotted by the CNRP. Sokha had been installed in the post as part of the deal between the CPP and CNRP, in which the CNRP agreed to end its boycott of the National Assembly after the fundamentally flawed elections in 2013.
“The ruling party’s removal of Kem Sokha from his parliamentary post is a blatant attempt to divide and scare the opposition into submission,” Adams said. “One day Hun Sen says he wants to work with the opposition, the next day they are attacked and removed from their positions in parliament. No deal with Hun Sen is worth the paper it is written on.”
Please see below for photos and a more detailed account of the attacks from Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen.
The Oslo Times/HRW