Last week’s reported beating of a Cambodian Bar Association member at the hands of eight young men—a beating that allegedly took place in full view of several police officers—highlights, once again, one of the several reasons that impunity and lawlessness continue to reign.
Although police are empowered to enforce the law and protect the citizens they serve, they often fear for their own security when they encounter top government officials and businessmen—or their relatives—during investigations.
“It is difficult because some of those people have guns. We do not carry guns,” said Um Sokha, a police officer in Phnom Penh. “We have children and small salaries.”
Prum Sar Phearith, a criminal police officer in the city, said Tuesday that the criminal antics of the sons of top leaders are a constant headache for municipal police.
“They always create problems for us in Phnom Penh,” he said. “It is difficult to solve the problem and investigate because they have money and they have power.”
And they have parents who often file complaints against policemen who take action against their children. Prum Sar Phearith said he is fighting one such complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court but declined to give details.
“We are very careful to take action against those kinds of children,” he said. “They can accuse us in any way.”
Other obstacles to investigating suspects with powerful relatives is that witnesses “dare not give their name and dare not say much about what they are seeing,” said Toep Kum, deputy police inspector in Chamkar Mon district.
In the days after three were killed in a late-night car crash and subsequent shooting near Olympic Stadium in October, court officials and police officers were reluctant to discuss the case with reporters. One court official said he feared for his security.
A 19-year-old coconut vendor was killed Oct 27 when a car traveling in a four-car convoy crashed into a parked truck.
After the crash, a 40-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman were shot dead when a man traveling in the convoy opened fire on curious onlookers gathered around the accident scene.
Police and witnesses said the suspects in the incident belonged to powerful and historically untouchable families.
But arrest warrants for five suspects, including Nhim Sophea, 22, the nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, were issued later that week. A top police official met with the suspects’ parents, urging them to hand over their children.
Nhim Sophea appeared in court in November and is due to stand trial today. He is charged with traffic violations and premeditated killings in connection with the shooting spree.
Another Hun Sen nephew, Nhim Chantana, was also apprehended after the incident and later released.
Hun Sen said in 2000 that “every son, whoever’s son, even my son, if they commit wrongdoing, they must be punished by the law.”
Nephews of Hun Sen have been arrested on several occasions in connection to violent incidents, but none have been convicted or served a prolonged sentence.
Heng Pov, the municipal police chief, said Thursday that he always arrests the children of the top leaders. “I don’t allow them to go free,” he said.
Pheng Sideth, the lawyer who said he was beaten last week, said Thursday he has issued a court complaint against Chamkar Mon district police.
“Phnom Penh is the city of the senior officials’ sons. They can do everything here. They can commit a crime and nobody can stop them,” he later said.
Police said Monday that they did their best to protect the lawyer, who tried to hide from his attackers inside the police office.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, an NGO that provides legal services, said Wednesday that such incidents happen often and hurt police credibility.
“Right now, the people are not confident in the police,” he said.