Jailed CNRP Commune Candidate Beaten Before Arrest, Wife Says

An opposition commune councilor charged last week with grabbing state land was beaten by district military police and forestry officials as they arrested him and another man in Kompong Thom province, his wife said on Wednesday.

Noch Keam, 43, said she saw five people attack her husband, Neth Sao, 64, a Sam Rainsy Party commune councilor running as a CNRP candidate in the June election in Santuk district’s Kraya commune.

On Friday morning, “he was sitting on his motorbike and they punched him in the face, hit him on the head and pulled him down from the motorbike. Then they kneed him in the chest,” Ms. Keam said, adding that her husband was then handcuffed and taken to the provincial police station.

Mr. Sao was charged on Saturday, along with villager Chan Thoeun, after attempting to prevent authorities from tearing down 17 homes built without permission on about 3 hectares of state land, officials said.

Ms. Keam said she had submitted a letter to the provincial court on Tuesday requesting the release of her husband on bail.

“He did not obstruct authorities like the forestry administration accused,” she said.

Mr. Thoeun, 37, was struck on the head with the butt of a handgun while trying to stop the alleged attackers from beating Mr. Sao, Ms. Keam said.

Tep Yeata, head of the local Forestry Administration cantonment, on Wednesday denied that Mr. Sao was beaten, but acknowledged the assault on Mr. Thoeun. He said the assault was justified because Mr. Thoeun had obstructed efforts to remove the houses, which were eventually torn down.

“We did not beat Mr. Neth Sao during the operation, but I recognize that…[Mr. Thoeun] was beaten because he bit the arm of an official,” Mr. Yeata said.

While Mr. Yeata had said Mr. Sao was arrested for land-grabbing on Sunday, he stated on Wednesday that Mr. Sao was only guilty of obstruction. However, Meas Vattana, deputy provincial court prosecutor, said on Sunday that Mr. Sao was charged with grabbing land.

Mr. Thoeun was among 12 others accused of clearing and occupying the state land, Mr. Yeata said. The arrests were not political, he added.

CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth disagreed, however, saying that the arrest of Mr. Sao—the second candidate on the party list for the commune—was “unfair because he did nothing wrong.”

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