Arrest warrants have been issued for as many as four remaining suspects in the May 6 acid attack on a Phnom Penh woman who is undergoing surgery in Vietnam to repair serious damage to her face, police said Thursday.
Cambodian police are providing security to the family of the victim, Ya Soknim, 35, in Vietnam, where doctors have removed an ear and an eye because of the damage caused by the acid, according to an official in the Interior Ministry’s internal security department who declined to be named.
National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy said he did not want to provide details about the case as the investigation was ongoing, but said police would not hesitate to prosecute even well-connected suspects.
“We have warrants from the Municipal Court for the arrest of three to four more suspects,” Hok Lundy said by telephone.
“The police have to arrest them all, from the top to low-ranking officers or others involved,” he said.
“If I tell you their names, they’ll escape,” he said.
Authorities revealed Tuesday that Ear Puthea, a 34-year-old suspect charged Monday in the case, had once served as an officer in the municipal police under Chea Ratha, who is now deputy chief of staff in the military police.
Ear Puthea has been charged with the illegal use of a weapon.
In the absence of a law defining acid attacks as a distinct crime, officials said Thursday they prosecute such attacks as assaults, with the severity of the punishment varying according to the harm inflicted on the victim.
A judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court who declined to be named said that if the victim is not killed, the attacker is usually charged with intentional injury.
A charge of intentional killing is brought when death results, he said.
In August 2004, a Phnom Penh woman was sentenced to 18 years in prison for an acid attack that killed her husband. Three months later, a Phnom Penh man was sentenced to six months in prison and five year’s probation for dousing his estranged wife with acid.
SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said Thursday that acid attacks, which mainly target women, should be treated as more than just another form of grievous bodily harm.
“The victim belongs to a special category. It’s like rape,” she said.
“It’s worse than stabbing someone, because it scars the victim physically, emotionally and psychologically,” she said of the disfigurement caused by acid burns.
Mu Sochua said that as Funcinpec minister of women’s affairs in 2002, she had tried to introduce a draft law on domestic violence that would have imposed prison terms of 10 years for convicted acid attackers.
After she left the party in 2004, the law was recalled and the provision regarding acid attacks was removed from the draft, she said.
The version of the domestic violence law enacted in 2005 makes no reference to acid attacks.
Since 2002, acid attacks have been punishable by death in Bangladesh, where laws also require that businesses, such as jewelers and auto-mechanics, safely store their cheaply available concentrated solutions of sulfuric and nitric acids.
Controversy arose in India early this month when judges at the country’s Supreme Court accused the Law Commission of India of dragging its feet in drafting an acid attack law, The Times of India newspaper reported.
However, a New Delhi court sentenced a man to life in prison for disfiguring his lover with acid, the paper reported in October.
Mu Sochua said her draft met with opposition from more conservative lawmakers who felt that acid attacks were the result of family discord and that punishing them too severely could provoke greater disharmony.
“They felt that it was giving too much emphasis on the victim, and it would harm the harmony of the family to give acid attacks so much importance,” she said.
The catastrophic scarring turns victims into living reminders of crimes for which others say they brought on themselves, Mu Sochua said, explaining the cultural context of such violence.
Acid can burn relentlessly and quickly through skin, muscle and bone, melting the victim beyond recognition.
Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Katha Phavi referred questions to ministry spokeswoman Sy Define, who said Thursday she was too busy to talk to a reporter.
Ho Naun, chair of the National Assembly commission on women’s affairs, said she was too busy to talk to a reporter Thursday, but CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said authorities viewed the question of acid attacks with urgency.
“We remain concerned about the acid attacks,” Cheam Yeap said.
“It is happening a lot recently, and we must make a specific anti-acid attack law for the next government after the July 2008 elections,” he said.