More than 300 villagers protested outside Takeo provincial court Tuesday, saying three armed robbers are too cruel to be released despite having served their sentences.
The villagers were upset with Prosecuting Judge Mei Sakhon, who ordered the trio released on legal grounds. The three remain in custody, however, for their own protection.
Takeo Governor Kep Chuktema said Wednesday that the villagers, from two communes in the Borei Cholsar district of Takeo, were angry because “the robbers were very cruel.”
The villagers believe, he said, that each robber committed “at least five to 10 crimes.”
The three have a complicated criminal history. They were arrested in December 1998 and sentenced to jail for a year and three months, completing their terms on March 31.
On March 2, while they were serving that sentence, another robbery was committed, Kep Chuktema said. The ringleader of a second group of robbers, arrested last week, blamed the trio for the March 2 caper.
Mei Sakhon, the prosecuting judge, said they couldn’t possibly have done it, given the date of the offense. “How can the three be involved in this robbery case?” said Mei Sakhon.
But the allegations made the villagers so angry that Takeo Provincial Police Chief Nou Sangwa arrested the trio last week—to protect them, said Kep Chuktema.
“The court says they have done nothing wrong. But we are still keeping them in police custody because we are worried they will be killed by the mob if we free them,” according to Kep Chuktema. Mob killings are common in Cambodia, especially of suspected thieves.
In an open letter to the King in January, Prime Minister Hun Sen said it is “very difficult” to constrain the anger of a mob and that the problem won’t be solved until people “abide by morality and respect the law.”
Mei Sakhon said Wednesday the three have served their prison sentence and should not have been arrested by police for a crime they could not have committed. He said the villagers were paid 3,000 riel by police officials to protest outside the court house and that the illegal detention is a ploy to extort money from the three men.