Beaten by Guards, Rights Advocates Now Accused of Assault

One of Cambodia’s most prominent human rights monitors has been summoned to court for questioning along with a land rights activist—as suspects—over a march last year during which they were beaten and injured by state security guards, a legal move NGOs decried as “farcical.”

Am Sam Ath, the high-profile monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, and Chan Puthisak, an activist from the Boeng Kak community, were repeatedly punched by members of the city’s notoriously violent Daun Penh district security guards during an otherwise peaceful protest march marking World Habitat Day on October 10. Security guards were filmed and photographed attacking both men.


cam photo beating folo
A still image from a video showing a Daun Penh district security guard in the act of punching land rights activist Chan Puthisak on last year. (Licadho)

Despite the video evidence against the guards, two of them—Sam Sotheara and Tet Chanthou—are accusing Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak of having attacked them. The municipal court has summoned the rights worker and activist for questioning today as suspects in an alleged case of “intentional violence.”

Neither of the plaintiffs nor their boss, district security guard chief Khim Vutha, could be reached for comment.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said he was not aware of the complaint by the security guards. But he maintained the government’s position that the marchers had provoked the guards and were to blame for the violence because they tried to avoid a cordon intended to keep them in Freedom Park, the city’s designated site for protests.

“The organizers who led the people on the march violated our agreement” to not walk to the Land Management Ministry, he said.

Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak both denied attacking anyone during the event and said they would go to court as requested.

“I think it is very unjust. I was the victim, but they have summoned me as a suspect,” Mr. Puthisak said. “I did not beat any security guards. I just used my phone to film the World Habitat Day events.”

Mr. Sam Ath said the authorities were “changing white to black.”

“Many people saw five or six security guards beating me,” he said. “If the other people did not help me, I would have been seriously injured or died.”

In a statement referring to the guards as para-police, Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy for Licadho, called the summonses a bad joke.

“Am Sam Ath and Chan Puthisak were victims of unprovoked attacks,” she said. “It is farcical that an investigation against them is even being considered.”

Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak both filed their own complaints against the guards soon after the attack, but there are no signs that their case has progressed.

In a separate joint statement, NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the security guards’ complaint an unabashed case of judicial harassment.

“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,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director for Amnesty International.

Amnesty also joined Licadho in calling on the court to drop the security guards’ complaint and take the assault allegations laid against them by Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak seriously.

Municipal court spokesman Ly Sophanna said the court was working on the complaint against the guards, but declined to say whether it had questioned anyone.

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