About 50 Kompong Speu pro-vince villagers, including four Buddhist monks, demonstrated outside the Justice Ministry on Monday in support of disgraced former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who is serving 58 years in prison.
The protesters, who claimed to represent 150 families in Odong district, told a reporter that Heng Pov was a good cop who had helped fight brutal robberies in their province in 2003 and 2004. They said they had also wanted to attend Heng Pov’s Monday appeal hearing over his seven-year prison sentence for illegal confinement of a female suspect.
“We came to listen to…whether [the court] will punish him more or drop the charge against him,” said a 45-year-old farmer, who like other protesters declined to provide his name, citing fear of retaliation from other robbers in Kompong Speu.
“In the past, he cracked down on a lot of thefts and villagers were the victims of theft,” he said, adding that police had prevented them from entering the Appeal Court, inside the Justice Ministry compound, because the courtroom was full.
“We want to support his release from prison because he had helped villagers a lot, he was handicapped because of robbers,” he said, referring to an incident in the early 1990s—not 2003 or 2004—in which Heng Pov had to have a leg amputated after being shot by robbers he had chased from Phnom Penh into Kompong Speu.
Villagers said that they were not aware of Heng Pov’s many previous trials—for crimes ranging from counterfeiting to the murder of a judge—and had recently heard of the appeal hearing on the radio.
“We heard that a police officer who had arrested robbers was now arrested,” said a 50-year-old female farmer, adding that the protesters were from the two communes of Kraing Chek and Choeung Ras.
“No one paid us to come; villagers voluntarily came because of our anger with robbers,” she added.
Rath Thavy, Kompong Speu investigator for local rights group Adhoc, expressed suspicion concerning the protesting villagers’ motives.
“This seems strange because [Heng Pov] had never come to work in Kompong Speu,” he said. “Why would Kompong Speu villagers go to support Heng Pov?”
Heng Pov’s lawyer Kao Soupha said that he was unaware of the protest, and added that neither he nor his client’s family was behind it.
“They were just wondering why thieves were freed and a police officer is punished,” he said of the protesters.
Ultimately, the court on Monday did not hear the appeal by Heng Pov and a fellow convict, former Phnom Penh minor crimes deputy police chief Ly Rasy, because Ly Rasy’s attorney was not present. Judges did not specify a new hearing date.