A commune election candidate for the Sam Rainsy Party in Battambang province was beaten to death by a group of unidentified men early Tuesday morning, police and party officials said.
Sam Sophea, a 30-year-old masseur, was on his way to administer traditional massage therapy to an unidentified man Monday night. As he was driving his motorbike with his brother on the outskirts of Battambang, they were attacked by six men with clubs, according to provincial police. Sam Sophea was beaten about the head as his brother fled to report the incident. Sam Sophea died early the next morning in a provincial hospital.
The Sam Rainsy Party is claiming the incident was a political murder orchestrated to weaken the opposition party in February’s commune elections. “Because he was a commune candidate and because he [was responding to] an unidentified man’s invitation, I claim that this is a political murder,” said Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Chheam Chhanny.
Chan Soveth of the human rights group Adhoc was unwilling to draw such a conclusion. “The investigation is not finished yet, but I think it is a common robbery rather than a political killing,” he said.
Provincial authorities also reject claims the killing was political, saying the attack was a robbery and noting that Sam Sophea was driving a new motorbike.
Heng Chantha, police commissioner for Battambang province, called the incident “a common robbery ” and said the man who solicited the massage was one of the bandits.
“[Sam Sophea] was not a popular man,” Heng Chantha said, adding that he was a poor traditional healer. He said the victim was the 14th candidate listed by the party in his commune, making him an alternate in an election in which nine commune council members will be elected. “We all can conclude that this murder was not politically motivated at all.” Heng Chantha said.
The National Election Committee confirmed that Sam Sophea was a registered Sam Rainsy Party candidate in Svay Por commune.