Cambodian-Australian opposition supporter assaulted in downtown Battambang

San Bunchhay says the case should be a slam dunk for authorities, if they are willing to proceed.
By RFA Khmer
2024.04.16
Cambodian-Australian opposition supporter assaulted in downtown Battambang San Bunchhay, following a beating in downtown Battambang when as many as six motorcyclists wearing masks and helmets attacked him from behind with bamboo sticks April 10, 2024.
San Bunchhay via Facebook

A Cambodian-Australian opposition supporter known for criticizing Cambodia’s government on social media was severely beaten by unidentified assailants in Battambang province in what he says is a case of politically motivated violence.

At around 5:50 p.m. on the evening of April 10, San Bunchhay, 43, was about to enter his car after leaving the ABA Bank in downtown Battambang when as many as six motorcyclists wearing masks and helmets attacked him from behind with bamboo sticks, he told RFA Khmer in an interview.

“As the assailants were beating me, two of them blocked the door of my car to prevent my wife, children and relatives from getting out to help me,” he said. “These guys violently attacked me, even though there were two security guards stationed in front of the bank and about 20 people entering and leaving the building.”

After the assailants began beating him, the ABA Bank security guards shouted at them several times and they escaped on their motorcycles, San Bunchhay said.

The ABA Bank branch is located near Battambang Provincial Hall and the Svay Por Police Station, but no one came to his aid, he added.

The attack left him with a bleeding head wound and bruises over his entire body. He required eight stitches in his head when he went for treatment at a nearby hospital.

San Bunchhay, his wife and young daughter reside in Australia, but had been visiting his hometown in Battambang province for six days to observe the Cambodian New Year, which runs April 13-16. Instead, after briefly recovering from the assault, San Bunchhay and his family returned to Australia on April 12.

Sam Rainsy supporter

A former professor of economics and outspoken supporter of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, San Bunchhay regularly posts comments on social media calling for reconciliation between Cambodia’s politicians in the interest of the nation.

San Bunchhay has taken part in several protests of the CPP in Australia along with his wife and three siblings, including one of former Prime Minister Hun Sen in July 2023 and of Hun Sen’s eldest son and Cambodia’s current Prime Minister Hun Manet during a state visit in March this year.

Speaking to RFA during his recuperation, San Bunchhay said there are reasons why he believes the attack was politically motivated.

Immediately after the assault, as he arrived at the hospital and before he spoke with anyone about the incident, local police visited his family home and informed his mother of what had happened.

ENG_KHM_AustralianBeaten_04122024.2.JPG
San Bunchhay, following a beating in downtown Battambang when as many as six motorcyclists wearing masks and helmets attacked him from behind with bamboo sticks April 10, 2024. (San Bunchhay via Facebook)

The officer said that his boss had advised him to check in because he was “worried about San Bunchhay’s safety” and wanted to know “where he is staying after being beaten.”

San Bunchhay said that senior officials with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP, had contacted him several times in the past to have “a friendly meal” and try to lure him to the party, but he had always refused, making them angry.

Additionally, he said, his family took part in anti-government protests in Australia prior to the July 2023 election, which the National Election Committee barred the opposition Candlelight Party from competing in, citing inadequate paperwork. The CPP handily won the election, which was criticized by the international community as neither free nor fair, taking 120 of 125 seats in the National Assembly.

San Bunchhay told RFA he had already filed a complaint with the Battambang City Police and suggested that the case would be a slam dunk, if authorities were willing to proceed.

He noted that there were several witnesses to the attack and said security cameras would have been able to capture clear images of the perpetrators and the license plates on their motorcycles.

However, he expressed doubt that he would receive justice.

Investigation underway

When questioned about the attack by RFA, Battambang Provincial Police Commissioner Sat Kimsan claimed that municipal authorities were conducting a search, having already identified the suspects’ motorcycle license plates through security camera footage.

He said three suspects were involved in the assault, but authorities have yet to identify them because they were wearing helmets.

“I can’t comment on the case because authorities are conducting an investigation,” he said. “No matter what the case is, as long as it happens in my province, I always seek justice for all victims.”

In a statement posted to its Facebook page on April 12, the Battambang Provincial Police detailed the attack and said the motivation was unclear. The police department urged anyone with information about the assault to report it and vowed to “bring the suspects to justice in accordance with the law.”

Tak Meng Heang, an ethnic Khmer Australian lawmaker, called the attack on San Bunchhay a “complete threat to political freedom and expression” and said Cambodian authorities must respect the right of expression of the Cambodian people, “no matter where they live.”

“If this is a real political assault, we can’t ignore this violent act,” he said, adding that San Bunchhay should file a complaint with the Australian Federal Police.

Translated by Yun, Samean. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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