Prime Minister Hun Sen says that there is “no principle” from the government endorsing mob killings or police beatings of suspected criminals in Cambodia.
“Many of the killings by the mobs happened before authorities arrived or they knew they could not intervene in time,” Hun Sen said in an open letter to King Norodom Sihanouk dated Wednesday.
“In the case where suspects are victimized by police, those were because they were armed and used their weapons against the police,” Hun Sen said.
The prime minister said his letter to the King was in response to recent criticisms of mob violence by Sam Rainsy.
Sam Rainsy called on the monarch to ask Cambodians to put an end to the extrajudicial killing of thieves, who are often lynched by a mob or shot to death by police.
“These extrajudicial executions are contrary to the Constitution, which abolished the death penalty,” Sam Rainsy said in a letter dated Dec 8. “We betray our religion and our Angkorian culture if we do not respect life.”
Numerous suspected thieves have been beaten to death by mobs in Phnom Penh in the past year, including two suspected motorcycle thieves inside a wat. Many Cambodians say mob violence exists because justice isn’t served by the courts.
“Building a rule of law is the ideal policy of the government,” Hun Sen said in the letter. But “to constrain the anger of the mob is very difficult. It is one of the big issues,” the prime minister said. “The issue cannot be solved unless people in our society abide by morality and respect the law.”
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said Sunday officials have been working to instruct motorbike owners to have license plates and identity cards.
Khieu Sopheak said he was concerned that a motorbike owner without a license plate and identity card could be wrongfully accused by the real thief and killed by a mob.
“There has not been a case of mistakenly killing motorbike owners yet, but we are worried that such a case will happen” he said. “So far, there have only been cases in which a thief shouts ‘a thief, a thief’ referring to someone else to confuse people.”
Bith Kim Hong, Phnom Penh’s deputy police chief, said he shares Khieu Sopheak’s concerns. “All motorbikes should carry license plates and drivers should carry the identity card of the bike for social order and for their own security,” Bith Kim Hong said. (Additional reporting by Jeff Smith)