Prek Koy Commune, Kandal province – Police are still standing by their story that a mob of villagers beat two men during a roadside confrontation on Friday, causing one of them to die. But locals say that police delivered the beating in the first place, and that it wasn’t until the men were detained in the local police station that serious injuries were inflicted.
Tith Leap, 22, said he and his brother-in-law Chamroeun Seyha, 26, were beaten by multiple officers while detained at the Sa’ang district police headquarters on Friday night after they were involved in an altercation on National Road 21 with district police officer Chhay Sina, who later had them arrested.
Chamroeun Seyha died of his injuries on Saturday morning at a hospital in Takhmao City.
While in custody, Mr. Leap said, “five to six police officers, including Mr. Sina, used a plastic pipe” to hit him and Chamroeun Seyha on their necks and the rest of their bodies. “They kicked and punched us very brutally.”
Residents interviewed on Monday said the two men—construction workers from Kompong Speu province who were visiting relatives in the area—sustained only minor injuries during the street altercation, which involved five police officers outside a gas station in Svay Tany village. And at least half a dozen people, along with Mr. Leap, said no villagers participated in the beating of the two men on the street.
“No villagers beat us. Villagers asked police not to beat us because they thought we did nothing wrong,” Mr. Leap said on Monday by telephone.
One witness to the street beating said he witnessed police officers hitting the two men.
“Villagers didn’t beat the men…. The police kicked the man who died,” said the witness, Chhun Hour, 41, who was a family friend of Chamroeun Seyha. He said he knew the attackers were police officers because of the walkie-talkies they carried.
His account drastically diverges from that published on the National Police website on Sunday. That report said Mr. Leap and Chamroeun Seyha hit Mr. Sina’s motorbike with their own on Friday evening in an attempt to steal his vehicle, and were then set upon by a mob of villagers who believed the men were thieves.
“After that our police officials arrived to rescue the men and bring them to the district police office. We saw that they were in bad condition and we sent them to the hospital,” the report said. “The provincial police chief also ordered judicial police officials to investigate this case.”
Sa’ang district police chief Seng Socheat said the men were not beaten while in police custody and declined to comment further. Mr. Sina, the district immigration police chief, could not be reached.
Mr. Leap offered a detailed account of how he and Chamroeun Seyha ended up in police custody, much of which was corroborated by neighbors and friends.
Riding on the same motorbike, the two men were driving on Thun Mon Street toward National Road 21 when they came upon Mr. Sina, in civilian dress, and started jockeying to pass him, Mr. Leap said. Dust kicked up into Mr. Sina’s face and his motorbike fell over near a pagoda.
“We stopped our motorbike to talk with him,” Mr. Leap said. At that point, Mr. Sina pulled out a firearm and pointed it at the men, he said.
The men yelled at each other near the pagoda gate, and then Mr. Leap and Chamroeun Seyha drove away, with Mr. Sina following them to the intersection of National Road 21, just outside a Tela gas station, he said.
Residents said a crowd of about 50 people had gathered at the scene by about 5:45 p.m., watching Mr. Sina and the two men hurl insults at each other, with the officer occasionally raising his pistol.
Luong Sok, a motor-bike taxi driver, said he heard Mr. Sina yell that the men had tried to steal his motorbike and then call commune police requesting assistance. When the police officers arrived, they kicked and punched the two men, who fell to the ground, said Mr. Hour, the witness.
“No villagers beat the two men. The villagers asked the police to stop beating them,” he said.
The men were driven to the district police headquarters by deputy commune police chief Khoem Sokkhai. While they had minor injuries at the time, the pair were able to walk and get on and off his motorbike with ease, Mr. Sokkhai said.
Mr. Sokkhai declined to comment on how the men were treated after their arrival.
“I don’t know what happened to the two men,” he said.
According to resident Hon Srey Sros, 25, when Mr. Leap and Chamroeun Seyha were released from the police headquarters late on Friday and brought back to the village, the latter man could not walk without help, Ms. Srey Sros said.
“I saw the man who died get up from the motorbike, but he couldn’t walk on his own,” Ms. Srey Sros said. “He was holding his stomach in pain. He fell down in the street.”
The two men were taken to the district hospital, but doctors there said they could not treat the men because their injuries were too severe, Mr. Leap said. Villagers then brought them to the Kandal Provincial Referral Hospital in Takhmao City, where Chamroeun Seyha, who had an appendix operation about five years ago, died on early Saturday morning. He was cremated on Sunday in Kompong Speu, according to Mr. Hour.
Speaking from a health center in his home village in Kompong Speu, Mr. Leap said he hoped provincial police would find out what really happened and punish those responsible.
“My brother-in-law’s family and I filed a complaint with the Kandal provincial police on Saturday to seek justice for us,” he said.