The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned 10 witnesses, including several police officials and one reporter, as it begins investigating the brutal murder of Nguyen Vann Chean, an ethnic Vietnamese man who was beaten to death by an angry mob in Meanchey district last month.
The 28-year-old from Kompong Chhnang province died after being viciously attacked by a group of at least 20 people when he intervened in an argument over a minor traffic accident. Witnesses revealed the crowd had been incited to the killing after one bystander yelled out the word “yuon,” a now-racially charged Khmer term for Vietnamese.
Investigating Judge Chuon Soreasey said the court issued the summonses on March 3 following a request by 50-year-old defendant Von Chanvutha, the only person so far arrested by police for allegedly calling out “Yuon fight Khmer!” as Nguyen Vann Chean was beaten to death.
“The suspect’s defense lawyer, Chhit Boravuth, requested that the court summon between 20 and 30 people but the court has decided to call only 10 people,” Judge Soreasey said, adding that this was still only the preliminary stage of the investigation and eye-witness testimonies would be used to clarify events surrounding the murder.
Among those summoned to appear at court on March 17 are district police chief Hy Narin, Chak Angre Loeu commune police chief Chorn Borin and deputy commune police chief Huot Vanna—who all are assigned to the case—and Mam Van, a reporter for local newspaper Koh Santepheap.
Mr. Van on Sunday said he would attend the court hearing but said he did not understand why he had been singled out as a witness.
“I would like to know why the court summoned only me as many other journalists and broadcast media reported this story too,” he said, adding that he was bewildered why the court would call reporters as witnesses since the incident had already occurred by the time they arrived at the scene.
Judge Soreasey said that the defendant’s lawyer had specifically requested that Mr. Van appear as a witness.
“Mr. Van should tell the court only what he saw and if he did not see anything then he should tell the court that he did not see anything,” Judge Soreasey said.
The suspect is charged with aggravated incitement of violence resulting in death, and intentional violence, and is in Prey Sar prison awaiting trial.