A Cambodian rights group is calling for an investigation into the death of a jailed land-rights protester, saying that witness accounts of events leading to the man’s death contradict official denials of abuse by police.
Tuy Sros, a resident of the Ou Chrov district of Banteay Meanchey province, died in police custody on Jan. 1 after being held from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31 following a land-rights protest in which five other villagers were also detained.
Statements by provincial authorities and Cambodia’s National Military Police said that the protester, described in an official statement as “an alcoholic,” had died of an unspecified illness.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Seoung Sen Karona—a spokesman for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—said however that Tuy Sros’ body bore multiple bruises when it was released for burial.
“Witnesses said that military police had assaulted Tuy Sros again and again until he died,” Seoung Sen Karona said. “We will continue to monitor this case, and we call on the authorities to investigate it thoroughly.”
Released on Jan. 3, detained protester An Ruon said that he too had been beaten by police while in custody and was a witness to the repeated assaults on Tuy Sros, who had been handcuffed and kicked in the ribs “until he screamed for mercy.”
“He was also choked, and they covered his mouth to stop his screams,” he said.
“He screamed all through the night, and they finally took him to another place, but they kept beating him until he lost his memory,” he said.
Angered by screams
Also speaking to RFA, Him Kiri—another detainee who was later released—said that police had been angered by Tuy Sros’ continued screams, which they said were disturbing other detainees in the jail.
Finally, police ordered drug addicts held in the cells to beat Tuy Sros themselves, he said.
“I saw a military policeman order the assault,” he said, adding, “He told them to beat him to death.”
“I begged them not to hurt him, but no one listened. It was very brutal. They treated us as if we were thieves or rapists or other [common] criminals.”
Reached for comment, provincial Penal Department Deputy Director Men Phyrum refused to discuss the incident, referring questions to the National Military Police.
Police deny reports
Military Police spokesperson Eng Hy meanwhile denied reports that police had abused Tuy Sros.
“If there are any witnesses to abuse, have them file a complaint with the court, and we will work on this according to the law,” he said.
In a statement, Banteay Meanchey Provincial Headquarters said that Tuy Sros was an alcoholic and was sick, and that police had sent him to the provincial hospital, where doctors could not revive him.
Provincial Prison Director Ung Siphan meanwhile said that Tuy Sros “had died of an illness.”
Speaking to RFA, Tuy Sros’ wife Buy Kimlak said that provincial authorities have given her family 10 million riel (U.S. $2,455) for funeral expenses and have promised to support her children through school.
“I am very sad at losing my husband, but I cannot accuse [the police] because I wasn’t with him, and I didn’t see what happened,” she said.
Youth throws rocks
In a separate case, police in the Daun Penh district of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh took Rum Piseth, a young man described as mentally ill, into custody this week after he threw rocks at the residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Speaking to RFA on Jan. 10, Rum Piseth’s mother Heang Teang said that police had brought her son to court Friday evening and had then taken him away to an unknown location.
“Please forgive him, he is mentally ill,” Heang Teang said, addressing Hun Sen in her remarks and adding, “If you can also provide treatment for him, I would be very grateful.”
Daun Penh district police chief Teang Chansa was unavailable for comment on Friday, but Seoung Sen Karona said that Cambodian law prohibits the prosecution of mentally ill suspects, and that Rum Piseth should be released.
“If he is mentally ill, and police continue to proceed with this case, this will be very unjust for his family,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun and Pheap Aun. Written in English by Richard Finney.