CNRP Official Charged After Police Charade

After police in Poipet City staged a dramatic incident in which a senior officer flopped on the ground in front of a barely moving SUV and was rushed to the hospital in a neck brace, the driver—a CNRP official and labor activist—has been charged with attempted murder, a police officer and rights worker said on Sunday.

A video of the incident posted to Facebook drew widespread condemnation and mockery, with people comparing the officer, Chhean Pisith, deputy chief of the Poipet border checkpoint, to a football player diving in the hope of drawing a foul and people in China who pretend to be run over by idling cars in order to extort money from the drivers. A photoshopped image of the officer holding an Oscar trophy was widely shared.

cam photo poipet KHMER AND WEB
Chhean Pisith lies on the road after flopping to the ground in front of an SUV being driven by CNRP official Mang Puthy in Poipet City on Friday.

Witnesses at the scene invariably said that Mr. Pisith, a police major, fell down of his own accord, according to rights group Adhoc.

Nonetheless, the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court pressed ahead with prosecuting the driver, Mang Puthy, 38, deputy head of the opposition party in Poipet and president of a labor association that advocates for local moto-taxi drivers, cart pullers and other informal workers.

Sith Luos, a deputy provincial police chief, confirmed that Mr. Puthy had been imprisoned, but said he was not sure what charge he was facing. “We investigated and sent the case to the court and the court already charged him,” he said.

Both Soum Chankea, a provincial monitor for Adhoc who is observing the case, and Din Phearith, Mr. Puthy’s brother, said court officials informed them on Saturday that he had been charged with attempted murder and placed in provisional detention at the provincial prison.

Mr. Chankea said that officials had found a way to move Mr. Puthy over a fence between the provincial court and provincial hall so that he would not be seen by hundreds of supporters who had rallied in front of the courthouse.

“Because many people were gathered in front of the courthouse to monitor the court’s procedure, Mr. Puthy was taken to the provincial prison by climbing over the fence into the provincial hall compound before being transported and placed in prison,” Mr. Chankea said.

Meas Chanpiseth, the chief prosecutor and spokesman for the court, could not be reached. Sok Keobandith, the deputy prosecutor handling the case, said he would only speak to a reporter in person at the provincial court.

Mr. Chankea said a police report submitted to the provincial court recommended that Mr. Puthy be charged with attempted murder. However, he said he could not find any witnesses who offered an account that would support such a charge.

“We want both sides to get justice because all eyewitnesses at the scene, from vendors to local laborers, all confirmed that the police official collapsed on the ground in front of the car himself, not being hit by the car at all,” he said.

Photographs were posted to Facebook showing Mr. Pisith being carried into an ambulance wearing a neck brace, and others showed him in a hospital with a large bruise on his thigh, though it was unclear what caused the injury.

Sin Vannak, a moto-taxi driver and member of Mr. Puthy’s association, said he had been following the legal proceedings as closely as possible.

“I followed the police car to the provincial prison and me and his family members were prevented by prison guards from seeing and talking to him,” he said. “It’s pretty unfair for him because he did nothing to that police officer.”

The Poipet border crossing has been a flashpoint for protests in the past two years, with workers who cross the border each day—mostly to sell goods or services in Thailand—often butting heads with officials who they accuse of unfairly or illegally taxing them.

Mean Sarith, head of the CNRP in Poipet, said the case was clearly political theater meant to silence Mr. Puthy and put a stop to his activism on behalf of the workers and the opposition party.

“The arrest of Mang Puthy is characterized by political motivations rather than being an accident,” he said.

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