HRW Slams Government Over Lawmaker Attack Case

The investigation and trial following the brutal attack on two opposition lawmakers by members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit last year has all the hallmarks of a “blatant cover-up,” according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday.

“Dragged and Beaten: The Cambodian Government’s Role in the October 2015 Attack on Opposition Politicians” suggests that the three bodyguards charged over the attack on CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea outside the National Assembly had not been acting alone. A verdict in their case is due on Friday.

The three defendants on trial for the beating of two opposition lawmakers last year arrive at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 10. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
The three defendants on trial for the beating of two opposition lawmakers last year arrive at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 10. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“The prosecution of the three bodyguard unit members for the brazen and brutal attack only scratches the surface in holding all those involved responsible,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement, referring to Chay Sarith, 33, Mao Hoeun, 34, and Suth Vanny, 45.

“Prosecuting only three people while blocking investigations into the attack’s other planners and participants shows a blatant cover-up by the government and courts. The trial’s limited scope means that evidence about possible involvement by high-ranking political and military figures is being ignored,” he said.

According to senior military officers who spoke to HRW on condition of anonymity, the attack came after Mr. Hun Sen set a deadline of late October 2015 for the CNRP to cease actions deemed provocative, including peaceful protests. Citing “internal government sources,” the report says that when the CNRP continued such activities, the premier “secretly decided to take action against the CNRP by removing its deputy leader, Kem Sokha, as first vice chairperson of the National Assembly.”

On the morning of October 26, participants in a planned demonstration against Mr. Sokha gathered at two Personal Bodyguard Headquarters (BHQ) compounds in Kandal province, and another location in Phnom Penh, the report says. Among the protesters were nearly 200 bodyguard unit personnel and members of a CPP-affiliated youth organization led by the prime minister’s son, Hun Many, it says.

A photograph purportedly showing Mr. Vanny, one of the attackers, outside the entrance of the Svay Rolum BHQ compound in Takhmao City, is included in the report.

After the attacks—directly carried out by 10 people, with at least 20 more in the immediate vicinity—the report says that those involved in the beating were escorted to a hotel in Takhmao City near the BHQ bases.

“A driver of one of the vehicles later said one of the BHQ commanders in his vehicle bragged about having participated hands-on in a beating,” the report says.

While showing that the attacks were carefully orchestrated, the HRW report also slams the ensuing investigation, arrest and trial of the three men, who apparently “confessed” in response to an appeal from the prime minister.

Court officials, who also spoke to HRW on condition of anonymity, said the trial of the three bodyguards was severed from potential proceedings against other suspects to secure an expedient trial.

“In theory, this leaves open the possibility of prosecution of additional persons eventually identified as having ordered or participated in the attack. However, this also allowed the judges to rule that questions about other persons were outside the scope of the proceedings,” the report says.

As a result, lawyers for Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea have been blocked by judges from pressing the accused—who deny being ordered to carry out the attack—on a wide range of issues related to their positions and direct superiors.

Court officials declined to comment on the report on Thursday. Hing Bun Heang, chief of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, who initially denied that any of his officers were involved in the beating, could not be reached.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan rejected the report and claimed there was no basis for its allegations of a cover-up.

“The case is finished. The investigation was closed when it was sent to the court and the court held a trial already,” Mr. Eysan said.

“The government is not behind the case. Every accusation must have evidence,” he said, going on to take aim at Mr. Adams.

“Mr. Brad Adams just accuses the government because he is angry with the government,” he said. “He’s abroad. How can he know about this case? Who is investigating for him?”

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