Two prominent human rights advocates beaten by state security guards at a rally last year denounced a criminal complaint lodged against them by two of the guards, saying that it was the guards and not them who should have been questioned as suspects in court on Wednesday.
“The officials committed the mistake, but they did not punish them,” said Chan Puthisak, an activist from the displaced Boeng Kak community, after being questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.
“Instead, they consider us as the suspects,” he said. “It is becoming a Nazi regime now.”
Am Sam Ath, the monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, and Mr. Puthisak were filmed getting pummeled by Daun Penh district security guards during an otherwise peaceful World Habitat Day march on October 10.
The video footage and outcry that followed did not stop guards Sam Sotheara and Tet Chanthou from filing a criminal complaint of “intentional violence,” claiming that they were the true victims of a beating delivered by the rights workers —a complaint that appeared to supersede one filed against the guards by the rights advocates.
Speaking outside the municipal court on Wednesday, where about 50 protesters rallied against the proceedings, Mr. Sam Ath said there was no reason he should have been summoned as a suspect.
“There is video footage, photographs and lots of evidence showing that those security guards were the ones who beat me,” he said.
“It was not only me who saw the event; many people also saw the cruel and inhumane acts of Daun Penh district security guards.”
In the days following the beating, police claimed that their investigations were hampered by a lack of witnesses, and initially urged reconciliation out of court rather than further probes into the beating.
Mr. Puthisak said he told prosecutors on Wednesday that he had merely been filming the protest when he was swept up by the melee.
“I told them that I saw Kim Vutha, who is chief of Daun Penh district security guards, leading his security forces to come and ask, ‘Who let you march here?’ And when he could not negotiate with [the protesters], he ordered his forces to scatter the event,” he said.
“The security guard beat me using his elbow and knee and punched me in the face. Some used walkie-talkies to hit me,” he said, adding that the blows resulted in three head and shoulder injuries.
Sam Sokunthea, Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak’s lawyer, struck a hopeful note for her clients, saying the court had yet to decide whether the pair were victims or perpetrators in the beatings.
“The prosecutor questioned both of my clients as defendants and also as victims,” Ms. Sokunthea said. “They did not lay the charges against anyone yet in this case, because they just received the report from police.”
Deputy prosecutor Ngin Pech, who questioned the defendants, and Mr. Vutha, who led the guards’ crackdown, declined to comment on the case, while court spokesman Ly Sophana said that the court was “moving forward with the case.”
The case features several fixtures of Phnom Penh protests.
Daun Penh guards have used clubs, slingshots and Tasers against protesters, opposition figures and journalists in the wake of the disputed 2013 national election with a brutality that Amnesty International said resulted in “numerous human rights violations.”
The guards were also plaintiffs in a 2014 case that saw 11 opposition party members handed long prison sentences for being part of a demonstration in which protesters fought back against their attackers.
One of the guards’ most regular adversaries have been a contingent of roughly two dozen Boeng Kak activists who have religiously joined protests in Phnom Penh after their former lakeside homes were wiped out to make way for a new luxury development in 2009.
Last year also saw a crackdown on rights group Adhoc, with four current employees and one former employee jailed for involvement in a bribery case widely seen as being politically motivated.
Adhoc senior investigator Soeng Sengkaruna called the summons of Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak a “threatening act.”
“I think it is a farcical thing, because no action was taken against the perpetrators described in the victim’s’ complaint,” Mr. Sengkaruna said.
“But instead, Mr. Sam Ath and Mr. Puthisak became the suspects who committed violence.”