svay rieng district, Svay Rieng province – Nine men who killed and ate another man’s dog were released from prison after a CPP parliamentarian intervened last week.
More than 100 villagers had protested for the release of the men after they were imprisoned Dec 30, maintaining that they killed the dog because it was “crazy” and responsible for the death of a 10-year-old boy a year ago.
“For generations, people have been happy if you kill a crazy dog. Now the owner is angry. I don’t know what to say,” said 68-year-old Ben Sokhan, whose two sons, Ben Sakhou, 35, and Ben Sokha, 30, were jailed.
On a single day in September 2002 the dog bit a child, attacked a pig and fought several other dogs in the village, the village chief said. That night, a group of nine men standing watch in the village killed it.
“They saw the dog, beat it to death, then cooked and ate it,” said Nop Vuthy, chief of Russei Prey village. “They did not know who it belonged to, so they ate it.”
The feasting and revelry started a legal tangle that more than a year later has no end in sight. Instead, it appears to be picking up speed, drawing the attention of high-ranking officials, perplexing the litigants involved and exposing a provincial court’s peculiar workings.
It began when the dead dog’s owner, Sao Saman, filed a complaint with the provincial court, which summoned the nine men to trial in early June.
The court determined that the dog was not crazy, and the seven defendants who appeared in court were convicted of conspiracy to steal property, sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay Sao Saman $250 in compensation.
“They not only ate the dog, but they stole the dog,” said Judge Pen Sarith. “The eaters were very happy, shouting and screaming through the night, having a party.”
Explaining the hefty fine, Pen Sarith said: “The dog is not expensive, but we cannot underestimate the emotional injury to the owner…. The dog owner suffered because the eaters have looked down on him.”
But several in the village said the dog was on a rampage on the day it was killed. Sixteen months after its death, there is no way to determine if the dog had rabies, a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and can be transmitted through a bite.
This week the dead boy’s parents said they will enter the legal fray with a complaint against the dead dog’s owner. They say the dog bit their son Phong Dy on the hand, and that he died four months later, on Jan 7, 2003, as a result.
His parents say the boy was frothing at the mouth and had a pitched fever in his death throes.
“He looked like a crazy dog,” said his mother, 37-year-old Kim Saroeun.
Meanwhile, the court is continuing its halting approach. The June court decision was unpopular in the village, and police delayed the detention of the men for months for fear of a backlash, Pen Sarith said.
When they arrested the men last month and threw them in provincial jail, more than 100 people protested outside the parliamentarians’ office. CPP lawmaker Duong Vanna ordered the temporary release of the men on Saturday.
Sao Saman’s family says they only wanted an apology for the dog’s killing. His wife said this week that the dog was not ill in any way and was always kind to her own children. She refuses to believe that it might have bitten the boy who later died.
And she said the nine men were being malicious by killing the dog and gloating about it the next day.
“They walked around rubbing their stomachs and saying, ‘I ate a lot of dog last night,’” she said.
“We do not want the money. We just want them to apologize for calling the dog mad, killing it and eating it,” she said.
Still, the court plans to rearrest the men when calm returns, said Pen Sarith. A two-month window to appeal the initial court decision passed long ago, he said, and the fine imposed on the nine men has not been collected.
The nine men have had no legal representation and are now in limbo.
“If I had a lawyer, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Ben Sakhou, who says he ate the dog but didn’t know the owner. “I didn’t think it would be a big problem.”