Two Cambodian opposition lawmakers were attacked Monday outside the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh by protesters demanding the resignation of the parliamentary first vice president, people at the scene and the opposition said.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea were taken to private medical clinics for treatment after a mob dragged them from their vehicles and punched and kicked them.
The attack occurred as more than 1,000 pro-ruling party demonstrators surrounded the parliament building in Phnom Penh, calling for Kem Sokha, vice president of the CNRP, to step down from his position as first vice president of the National Assembly.
Kem Sokha has been a dogged critic of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). A political truce between the two parties broke down earlier this year when CNRP members were jailed on what they claim were politically motivated charges of insurrection. Accusations by the CNRP that the CPP was allowing neighboring Vietnam to encroach upon Cambodian territory added fuel to the fire.
Some demonstrators told RFA’s Khmer Service that they were in the capital for a youth gathering, but when they arrived at the National Assembly building, they were asked to participate in the protest and call for Kem Sokha’s resignation.
The CPP, however, denied organizing the demonstration.
The CNRP issued a statement condemning the attacks.
“This brutal act is a serious human rights violation and an abuse of lawmakers’ immunity, which is protected by the constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the statement said “The CNRP appeals to the authorities to take immediate steps to investigate and arrest suspects who assaulted the two lawmakers.”
Assaults organized by CPP
CNRP president Sam Rainsy told RFA from France that the assaults were organized by the CPP and a repetition of past violent incidents against other party members.
“I was shocked and condemn the violent assault against lawmakers in Cambodia,” he said. “Regardlesss of which party they come from, lawmakers should have the right to speak, and they should not be assaulted.”
He advised Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea not to hide after the attacks but to continue doing their jobs.
“I have observed that the demonstrators were gathered and transported to cause violence,” he said. “I don’t think ordinary villagers would assault their lawmakers.”
On his Facebook page, Sam Rainsy elaborated upon the attacks, saying they were carried out by the CPP for an anti-Hun Sen demonstration on Sunday in Paris, which infuriated Cambodia’s leader who is on an official state visit to France.
“Before his departure from Cambodia for his current official visit to France, Prime Minister Hun Sen had warned his detractors that if Cambodian opposition supporters were to effectively hold their planned demonstration against him while he is in Paris, then Hun Sen’s supporters would attack and create trouble for Sam Rainsy's supporters in Cambodia,” he wrote.
Sam Rainsy warned of more acts of political violence to come in the next few days, as Hun Sen tries to derail the electoral process because he knows that the CPP doesn’t stand a chance of winning local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party would file a complaint with authorities about the attack on the parliamentarians and urged them to conduct an investigation, while human rights groups called on authorities to bring the assailants to justice.
Dragged from their cars
CNRP lawmaker Kong Sophea told RFA that protestors dragged him from his car and punched and kicked him after he finished attending the morning session at the National Assembly, causing injuries to his nose, head and waist.
“Demonstrators walked toward my car, and when my driver slowed down, they dragged me out and attacked me,” he said, adding that the assailants were likely police or military officers.
The assailants stole his wallet, U.S. $300, his cell phone and bank card, while traffic police nearby failed to intervene, he said.
A small mob also attacked lawmaker Nhay Chamreoun, beating him unconscious and injuring his arm, jaw and nose.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said his party did not organize the demonstrators, but he acknowledged that the groups included supporters of both the CPP and CNRP as well as opportunists.
“The demonstrators held a nonviolent demonstration, but the opportunists provoked a chaotic situation,” he said.
Long Dimanche, spokesman for the Phnom Penh municipal government, said the protestors had not applied for permission to demonstrate.
He told the Associated Press that no arrests had been made and that demonstrators had left the area before the attacks.
Meanwhile, authorities in Tbong Khmum province in the central lowlands of the Mekong River, arrested a CNRP activist and another villager after they questioned military officers about extorting money from local firewood sellers.
Reported by Hong Sokhunte, Chanthey Roeurn and Serey Mony for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun and Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.