SRP lawyer Choung Chou Ngy, who last week was accused of helping a prisoner escape from Kandal prison, has gone missing. Rights groups said the lawyer had been arrested, while police and court officials claimed they had no idea where Mr. Chou Ngy is.
Men Makara, Kandal provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that Mr. Chou Ngy was reportedly arrested in Kompong Chhnang yesterday morning while traveling there for work.
“He was reportedly arrested at 9 am in Kompong Chhnang province,” said Mr. Makara. “Now, he’s disappeared, and it is unclear whether or not he was arrested.”
Mr. Chou Ngy’s niece, Chhay Sokun Theary, said she received a call from her uncle at about 7:30 am, saying he was being chased as he drove from Kandal to Kompong Chhnang.
“He told me that he was being chased for arrest, but he did not elaborate on who was after him,” said Ms. Sokun Theary, adding that her uncle’s phone was subsequently turned off and she has had no word from him since.
“I don’t know for sure whether or not he has been arrested or whether he is in detention,” she added.
Mr. Chou Ngy has a long history of defending beleaguered SRP officials, including Sam Rainsy himself. In recent days, however, he himself has fallen afoul of the law, with officials claiming he helped SRP deputy commune chief Meas Peng escape from Kandal Provincial Prison last month.
Both Mr. Chou Ngy and SRP lawmaker Chan Cheng-who has fled the country-were charged by Kandal Provincial Court on Friday with helping a detainee escape, an offense punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
Contacted by phone yesterday, provincial prosecutor Ouk Kimseth said he was unaware of the reported arrest because the court “didn’t issue an arrest warrant.”
His words were echoed by a number of police officials. Kompong Chhnang provincial police chief Ath Khem and Chim Bunthoeun, chief of the provincial judiciary police, both said they were not familiar with the case and that they had received no warrant for Mr. Chou Ngy’s arrest.
“I don’t know anything about this because I didn’t arrest him,” said Mak Chito, deputy commander for the National Police, before referring further questions to Kandal Provincial Court.
While Kandal Provincial Court officials denied knowledge of Mr. Chou Ngy’s whereabouts, more than 30 military police and traffic police could be seen deployed at the court’s two main gates yesterday afternoon.
Kirth Chantharith, National Police spokesman, said that he heard rumors of Mr. Chou Ngy’s arrest but had not confirmed it.
“I checked with the penal police and the military police, no one knows,” he said. When asked whether the police would investigate the apparent disappearance, Mr. Chantharith said it was too premature to call him missing.
“At the moment we cannot conclude he is missing because it will cause chaos,” he said, adding that police must wait 24 hours before declaring a person missing. “Maybe he just went out for a bite,” he suggested.
Chiv Songhak, president of the Bar Association, said the Association had not received a copy of a warrant, which is standard practice in cases involving lawyers.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party was investigating Mr. Chou Ngy’s whereabouts. After his phone was turned off, Mr. Chou Ngy remained unreachable throughout the day.
“We fear for his security very much,” Mr. Sovann added.