Police in Phnom Penh on Thursday shot and killed a suspected motorcycle thief they alleged was running away from them, and human rights workers have decried the killing as a deliberate execution and demanded an investigation.
Activists are calling for the suspension of police officers after Khin Thol, 48, was shot six times in the back on Thursday afternoon. His death follows a similar fatal shooting by police of a suspected motorcycle thief on July 21.
Police maintain Thursday’s victim—who for a while was in custody in the Daun Penh police headquarters but later was accompanying police to look for evidence—was shot while he tried to escape.
Uch Thon, deputy penal police chief in the Daun Penh district, said the victim was arrested early Thursday afternoon for allegedly buying stolen motorcycles.
Human rights workers said eyewitnesses told them the victim was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. Uch Thon said the victim was not handcuffed at the time he was shot.
The victim, Khin Thol, was arrested in his house in Srah Chak commune, Daun Penh district. Police had followed the victim’s godson, Sok Khum, 19, who they said was seen attempting to steal motorcycles earlier in the day.
Both were brought to Daun Penh police station, where they confessed to stealing motorcycles, Uch Thon said. He added that Khin Thol was later brought back to his commune to locate weapons he allegedly had hidden.
“But… Khin Thol ran to escape and the police shot in the air to warn him to stop, but he did not,” Uch Thin said. “The police officers then radioed to the district police chief, who gave permission to shoot Khin Thol.”
Municipal Judicial Penal Police Chief Khuon Sophon confirmed Thursday that Khin Thol was shot while trying to escape.
“That man was in jail many times for stealing motorcycles,” said Khuon Sophon. Each time Khin Thol was released from prison, he said, he would steal again.
Thursday’s victim was the father-in-law of Song Veasna, a suspected motorcycle thief who was beaten and then burned to death by a hundreds-strong mob in Phnom Penh on July 21, Uch Thon said.
An accomplice of Song Veasna was later shot by police when he also allegedly attempted to escape.
Human rights workers said Thursday that eyewitnesses saw a handcuffed Khin Thol being walked to his death down railway tracks in Daun Penh district by two men in plain clothes.
Thun Saray, president of local human rights group Adhoc, said eyewitnesses saw the two men order the victim to walk ahead of them before shooting him in the back.
If the killers were in fact police officers, there must be a full investigation by the Ministry of Interior, Thun Saray said.
“They cannot carry out an extra-judicial killing like this,” said Thun Saray.
Another human rights worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the killing shows a “total disregard for proper police procedure.”