An angry mob of about 600 people from Takeo province’s Bati district on Sunday beat and stoned to death a 36-year-old man they accused of causing the deaths of several elderly people in the past two years through sorcery, police said.
Over the course of six hours on Sunday, the initial mob of 200 people in Kraing Leav commune’s Prey Chonlounh village tripled in size as people from neighboring communities came to watch or participate in the killing at the victim’s home.
“The victim, Pov Sovann, who goes by the name Mao and is 36 years old, was killed by the many stones that were thrown at him and by the clubs that the 600 people from different communes had to beat him,” Bati district penal police chief Khut Lo said yesterday.
The violent mob could not be stopped by police, who were afraid to do anything but stand by and watch, he said.
“My police could not do anything because there were many people who carried stones and clubs and were very violent,” he said, adding that he had watched the mob killing from the first attack, which took place at about 2 p.m., until Pov Sovann’s death at about 8 p.m., likely due to multiple blows to his head.
District police chief Ngann Sary said that about 30 police from Bati and neighboring Samroang district joined to intervene, but could do little to control or stop the mob. At one point, Mr. Sary said, an ambulance tried to get through to the victim, but turned around in fear of the mob.
“The perpetrators warned them…. If they come, they will destroy the ambulance car,” said Mr. Sary, who also witnessed the killing.
Mr. Lo said that he was one of the first police officers to arrive on the scene at the victim’s house in Prey Chonlounh village. About 200 people, some of them family members of recently deceased villagers, had surrounded the stilted house, and about a dozen people were beating Pov Sovann in a room upstairs.
Police intervened and briefly managed to placate the crowd, until more and more people arrived from neighboring communes.
While the increasingly violent mob was shouting and banging against the house, about thirteen people went back upstairs, beat Pov Sovann with sticks, clubs and stones and pushed him down the stairs, into a crowd that by then had grown 600 people strong. Mr. Lo said it was impossible to tell which blow eventually led to Pov Sovann’s death, but that the dozen people who went into the house appeared to be most responsible.
“I recognized nine of the very violent suspects,” Mr. Lo said. However, local police would rely on the provincial court to order the arrest of the perpetrators.
“I am preparing the documents for the provincial court to arrest the suspects and will send them on Wednesday,” he said.
Mr. Lo said that he was unaware of any enmity against Pov Sovann, who he said was a respected community member who had been practicing traditional healing for several years without incident.
In the past two years, however, seven mostly elderly people have died in the area without being diagnosed with any diseases.
“The villagers believed that they died because of the sorcerer—Pov Sovann,” Mr. Lo said.
Krain Leav commune police chief Em Savuth said he believed the recent passing of a 54-year-old woman in Prey Chanlounh village had spurred the violence.
“They assumed that the victim caused the death of a woman who was 54 and died on [Friday]. That led to [Sunday’s] violence,” Mr. Savuth said.
Several mob killings of people practicing traditional medicine but accused of sorcery occur each year. In January, mobs killed two people suspected of sorcery in separate incidents in Kompong Speu province. The same month, a traditional healer accused of sorcery was badly injured after being attacked with a machete in Takeo province’s Prey Kabbas district.