More than 30 Sihanoukville villagers protested outside the municipality’s police headquarters Wednesday to demand the release of a man detained after police allegedly beat and shocked him with electric batons during a land dispute.
Khim Samnang, an activist for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he witnessed police and military police beat and shock detainee Phan Bunthy, 45, and his 42-year-old wife Meas Neang, in Mittapheap district’s Muoy commune Wednesday morning.
The alleged violence occurred when 20 policemen arrived shortly after 6 am and used a tractor and bulldozer to try and destroy crops and clear homes on the disputed 3.5 hectares of land in Muoy village, which 229 families live on, Khim Samnang said.
A crowd of villagers surrounded the officials and shouted abuse at them, he added. Police then lashed out at Phan Bunthy and Meas Neang.
“I witnessed police beat and electrocute that villager and his wife,” Khim Samnang said. “Then police pulled the man into a police truck to detain him at the municipal police office.”
Un Thanann, a monitor for local rights group Licadho, said he was at the scene and that villagers did not fight back against the police during the violence.
Thean Vuthy, a 37-year-old representative of the villagers, said police beat Phan Bunthy unconscious and shocked his wife until she urinated. The families have been living on the disputed plot of land since 1996, though they do not have official land titles, he said.
Police denied violence had occurred.
“We didn’t beat or electrocute them,” said Poak Saroeun, municipal minor crime police chief.
“[Phan Bunthy] was arrested…because he used bad, abusive words,” the municipal minor crime police chief added.
Poak Saroeun also accused Phan Bunthy of trying to build a new home for his children on the land, which he said is designated for homeless families. Police plan to release Phan Bunthy soon without charge, Poak Saroeun added.
Sou Sarin, Phan Bunthy’s 67-year-old mother, said that seven villagers, including herself and Meas Neang, were summoned Thursday to appear at the municipal court Monday for questioning for allegedly inciting villagers to fight the police.
“I will not appear at court because I have never incited others,” she said.
Meas Sopheak, the court’s prosecutor, confirmed he has summoned seven villagers but declined further comment.