Judge Denies Coercion Claim in Assault Case

A father whose three children were badly beaten by employees of a rubber plantation has accused a Ratanakkiri Provincial Court judge of threatening to send his two sons, aged 14 and 21, to jail unless they accept $1,000 in compensation and drop their assault complaint.

Ry Saron is attempting to sue the plantation owner, DM Group, for $40,000 for the May 5 beating that company employees inflicted with wood and metal poles on his three children and a neighbor.

The four were attempting to stop rubber plantation workers from clearing land claimed by their families when they were beaten. They were all hospitalized, including Mr. Saron’s 12-year-old daughter. His 14-year-old son was initially sent to Vietnam for emergency treatment for head injuries. The teenager has since returned to Ratanakkiri, where he remains in a local health clinic receiving care for swelling of the brain.

Four DM Group plantation workers were arrested immediately after the attack and charged with causing intentional violence.

However, during questioning at the provincial court on Wednes­day regarding his complaint against DM Group, Mr. Saron claimed that investigating Judge Eng Chamnap threatened to send his two sons—but not his 12-year-old daughter—to jail, along with the other male victim of the attack, unless he signed an agreement to accept $1,000 as compensation and drop his complaint.

Mr. Saron also alleged that Judge Chamnap threatened to charge his sons and his neighbor’s son with attacking the plantation workers, thus turning them into the perpetrators and not the victims of the assault.

“The judge forced me to give my thumbprint on the report to receive the compensation for my three injured children and the injured neighbor,” he said Thursday by telephone.

“The judge threatened that my youngest boy will also go to jail after he leaves the hospital,” Mr. Saron said.

Under duress, Mr. Saron said he agreed to thumbprint a statement, two lines of which the judge kept blank at the bottom, which Judge Chamnap subsequently filled in himself stating that Mr. Saron had agreed to accept the $1,000.

“The judge said, ‘Your sons will not be charged and the four workers will also be released,’” he said.

“It is unfair for my children because the judge is biased to the company.”

Judge Chamnap denied coercing Mr. Saron into signing the agreement, but said the $40,000 he was seeking was too much because the four jailed workers were indigent.

“I did not force them to accept the [$1,000] compensation. I just explained to them that the workers are poor, so they are not able to pay his demand for so much compensation,” the judge said.

Judge Chamnap did confirm, however, that he did state that Mr. Saron’s injured sons and the neighbor were, he believed, suspects for having allegedly at­tacked the four rubber company employees.

Judge Chamnap said he came to that conclusion based on what the company employees had told him.

“We do not yet know who will go to jail because we are still investigating to find the truth,” he added.

Mr. Saron’s eldest son, Ry Sokleap, 21, who also attended Wednesday’s questioning, corroborated his father’s account and added that the judge also inspected the injuries on his head and right arm that were inflicted during the plantation attack, but posited that they were more likely sustained in a traffic accident.

“The judge said, ‘You will also go to jail if I find that these injuries are from fighting, be­cause you also beat those people,’” Mr. Sokleap recounted.

Mr. Saron said Wednesday’s questioning was not the first irregularity in the assault case.

On May 7, a court clerk accepted and stamped Mr. Saron’s original complaint, which was against DM Group as the employer of the four workers. But, according to Mr. Saron, the same court clerk also filled out a second complaint, of his own volition, that was only against the four employees and not DM Group.

Chhay Thy, the provincial investigator for local rights group Adhoc, who helped Mr. Saron with his original complaint, said he was looking into the allegations.

“We have already assigned a lawyer to investigate this case and we will file a request with the court director to appoint a new judge if our lawyer finds that the current investigating judge is biased,” he said.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive direc­tor of the free legal aid Cambodian Defenders Project, said the law does allow for the jailing of children 14 years of age and older. But he said the law also requires investigating judges to remain neutral.

To accuse Mr. Saron’s sons of attacking the company employees before the completion of an investigation is a serious ethical breach, Mr. Sam Oeun said.

“One it is unfair, one it is unethical, and he must be punished by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy because the investigating judge must be neutral,” he said.

DM Group has been locked in land disputes with local villagers in Ratanakkiri for years.

Last year, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Second Lieutenant Sin Vanny, 50, was arrested for shooting and injuring a 20-year-old villager who was riding a motorcycle across land at the center of a separate long-running land dispute between ethnic minority villagers and the rubber plantation. Lt. Vanny was moonlighting at that time as a security guard for DM Group in Lumphat district.

The DM Group could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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