Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials have been ordered to investigate the death of Pen Kunthea, a sex worker who drowned in the Tonle Sap river while being chased by state security guards earlier this month, according to officials.
Chin Malin, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana had issued the directive to the court on Thursday.
“The prosecutor and local authorities are working on it,” Mr. Malin said. “They have to take action to investigate.”
On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers submitted letters to National Assembly President Heng Samrin calling on Mr. Vong Vathana, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi to investigate and find justice for the victim and her family.
“This case…clearly shows that the security group had real intentions of leaving the victim to drown,” the lawmakers said in one of the letters, adding that “the Daun Penh security group shall be guilty” for murder and premeditated murder.
Their letters were passed on to the three ministers on Wednesday, National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said.
“[The investigation] doesn’t have a deadline, so they can investigate as they need until they finish,” he said.
Pen Kunthea, 33, was among a group of about five sex workers who fled toward the Wat Phnom docks while being chased by the guards during a raid on January 1. Witnesses said she slipped jumping from one boat to another, knocking her head on the way down into the water, at which point the guards left her to drown and threatened onlookers who tried to help her. Her body was found floating in the Tonle Bassac river two days later.
Kim Vutha, chief of the district security guards, said an internal investigation had cleared the guards of any wrongdoing.
“We are pleased to join this investigation, but we have finished our own investigation, which found that the victim ran and had this incident by herself,” he said.
“[The opposition] can make claims as they like, but they need to have evidence and witnesses to prove it,” he added.
Pen Meng Ky, the victim’s sister, welcomed the opposition’s support, but said she was skeptical of the court’s ability to find the truth.
“I have no idea if they can find justice, because I do not know how many limitations there are on the investigation,” she said. “I hope that the people who learned the law would use it to find the justice for my sister.”
Court spokesman Ly Sophana could not be reached.