Six fishermen were each sentenced to 12 years in prison in Kandal Provincial Court Monday for the beating deaths last year of three fisheries officials who were trying to confiscate the fishermen’s equipment, officials said.
Hou Yang Yang, 42, Yang Lam, 35, and Buth Thy, 48, pleaded innocent to the charge of intentional manslaughter, provincial court Judge Ros Sarin said. Three other men, who are still at large, were convicted in absentia.
The court found that a seventh suspect, a 12-year-old boy, was an innocent bystander to the killings and released him.
The verdict comes almost a year after the attack on six fisheries officials who were making a late-night raid on illegal fishing on the Tonle Sap River about 10 km north of Phnom Penh.
The officials were towing two boats, their crews and equipment back to a government fisheries office when they were set upon by a group of about 20 men. The men, from the nearby ethnic-Vietnamese fishing village of Duong in Ponhea Leu district, responded to the suspects’ cries for help, witnesses said.
The assailants beat the officials with oars and rocks, killing three and injuring the other three.
At the time of the attack, officials and human rights groups feared the incident would inflame already tense relations between Cambodians and ethnic Vietnamese, but there have been no reports of reprisals.
The incident sparked debate over whether fisheries officials should be armed, but the government rejected the idea, saying it could lead to more violence. In general, fisheries officials on raids are backed up by armed police.
Provincial Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Director Tea Leang Huot hailed Monday’s verdict, saying the dead men had been vindicated. “We are happy for the court’s verdict,” he said. “Justice has been found for them.”