A protester involved in Tuesday’s clash between SL Garment Factory workers and security forces filed a complaint yesterday against Phnom Penh’s municipal and military police chiefs, accusing them of responsibility for the death of a 49-year-old street-food vendor who was killed by police gunfire, according to witnesses.
Two teenagers, aged 14 and 17, were also charged Thursday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for their alleged involvement in the violence and detained in Prey Sar prison’s Correctional Center 2.
Of the 31 civilians and seven monks originally detained and questioned, the teenagers are the only two charged with a crime, while all others have been released.
Neang Sokhun, a 25-year-old second-year law student, who claimed he was beaten by the police during the clashes, said he filed court complaints “on behalf of the Khmer people” against municipal police chief Chuon Sovann and Lieutenant General Roth Sreang, commander of the municipal military police, for the “murder that was committed by public civil servants, in accordance with Article 204 from the Penal Code.”
Article 204 pertains to “murder committed by public officials…in the performance of his or her duties or in connection therewith.”
“I filed the complaint against them because I saw their actions, which cracked down on innocent people such as workers and nearby vendors. I was involved in the incident that was committed by [them] and I survived it,” Mr. Sokhun said.
“During the incident, I saw their brutal crackdown which killed and injured people, and arrested many people,” he said.
Prak Savouth, director of prosecution clerks at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, confirmed that the complaint had been received, and that Mr. Sokhun had accused Mr. Sovann and Lt. Gen. Sreang of “ordering their armed forces to shoot workers and innocent people” resulting in the death of Eng Sokhom, who was an innocent bystander selling food.
“We have received the complaint and we will implement the legal procedures,” Mr. Savouth said.
The clash erupted on Tuesday after SL Garment workers attempted to march to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to air their grievances, only to be blocked by police at Stung Meanchey bridge. In the ensuing violence, two police vehicles and motorcycles were torched and a crowd of mainly youths pelted rocks at the police, who returned fire with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said by telephone that he was aware of the complaint against his Lt. Gen. Sreang.
“I heard about that, but it is the right of the people to file a complaint against someone,” he said. “It depends on the court.”
He said that military police are tasked with keeping order “when there is violence and actions that are against the law, and we need to crack down on them.”
“The demonstrators had used violence on us such as burning the car and motorbikes, which were State property.”
Mr. Sovann, the municipal police chief, could not be reached for comment and National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith declined to comment.
Also yesterday, 14-year-old Meas Non and 17-year-old Vanny Vanan were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with intentional acts of violence, damage to public property, insulting public officials and the obstruction of public officials for their alleged role in the clash.
Outside the court Thursday, Meas Non pleaded his innocence and said that he had been wrongfully implicated in the burning of one of the police vehicles.
“They charged me with burning a police car,” he said, “but I did not. I broke the car’s window, because it hit me, so I broke it.”
He said he had also been shown a video of himself trying to remove one of the burning motorcycles from the fire, but insisted that he had not been responsible for setting it alight and only wanted to use the parts from the torched bike.
Vanny Vanan, the other charged teenager, said he had not taken part in the protest and had only stopped at the scene to see what was going on.
“I just walked…and stopped to see the incident because there were crowds,” he said. “When I got there, one car was already burned and…the police arrested me. They charged me with burning the car and throwing the rocks—but I did not know any thing.”
At the funeral of slain street-food vendor Eng Sokhom Thursday, her husband, 51-year-old Nget Vong, said he wanted justice done.
“We want the government to find justice for my wife, because she was innocent,” he said. “It is an injustice, because we had not done anything wrong,” he said, adding that he too was planning on filing a complaint against the security forces who were responsible for shooting his wife.
Lt. Gen. Chantharith, National Police spokesman, denied on Wednesday that police were responsible for Eng Sokhom’s death, and that police would conduct their own investigation.
Brig. Gen. Tito said yesterday that an investigation is needed “to see who shot [Eng Sokhom] and what kind of bullet” was used.
“We cannot say when we just see the body that police shot her—who saw the police shoot her? Which police?”
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers and Aun Pheap)