Autistic Teenaged Son of Jailed Cambodian Opposition Member Bludgeoned With Brick

The attack marks the 30th against CNRP members and their families by unknown assailants.
Autistic Teenaged Son of Jailed Cambodian Opposition Member Bludgeoned With Brick Prum Chantha (L) and her son sit at a Buddhist temple near Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, Oct. 6, 2020.
Prum Chantha

Unknown assailants attacked the teenaged autistic son of a jailed member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party with a brick Tuesday, leaving him with a fractured skull, in the latest of several assaults on people connected to the country’s opposition party over the past year.

Kak Sovannachey, the 16-year-old son of former senior CNRP member Kak Komphear, was assaulted by two men on a motorbike while traveling with his mother, Prum Chantha, to a hospital in the capital Phnom Penh for treatment. The men immediately fled the scene of the attack, which left Kak Sovannachey in need of 20 stitches, Prum Chantha told RFA’s Khmer Service.

A member of the “Friday Wives” group of women who hold weekly protests demanding the release of their husbands jailed on incitement charges for expressing views critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership, Prum Chantha said that she believes the assailants meant to hit her but missed. Kak Sovannachey had composed songs for her to sing as part of her campaign.

“If our country has rule of law and our leader is a good man, [the authorities should] please take action,” she said.

“Don’t allow them to get away with this kind of inhumane and vengeful attack. [The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)] asked me to defect and I felt intimidated by them, but I did not agree, so they attacked us. Why would they attack the family members of a politician? It’s disgusting.”

Following the attack, Prum Chantha said she went to a local police station in Phnom Penh and filed a complaint, but officers there refused to accept it, saying they “lacked the resources” to work on the case.

To date, some 30 CNRP activists have been attacked by unknown assailants—mostly in Phnom Penh and usually by men on a motorbike targeting their heads. So far, only two suspects have been arrested related to an assault in Kampong Chhnang province.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sokseiha told RFA he had yet to receive any information about Tuesday’s attack. He encouraged the victim to file a complaint so that police can investigate the incident. But he dismissed the notion that the assault was politically motivated.

“As long as the case has not been investigated, we can’t make an assumption,” he said.

“We cannot assume that all of these cases are assassination plots,” he added, noting that the victim’s mother has been involved in “incitement to provoke social chaos” in the past.

Ny Sokha of local rights group Adhoc told RFA that police need to investigate the incident, “even if the victim doesn’t file a complaint.” He said that in order to avoid any accusation of double standards, the police must provide justice to the victim.

“[In the past, people didn’t file complaints] because they lost confidence in the police,” he said.

“We urge the police to do their jobs and avoid any discrimination in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and gain back the trust of the people.”

Kak Sovannachey is treated at a hospital in Phnom Penh, April 27, 2021. RFA

Opposition members targeted

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after leader Kem Sokha’s arrest, for its role in opposition leader’s alleged scheme. The ban, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Since then, the party’s members have fled into self-imposed exile to avoid what they say are politically motivated charges, or faced intimidation, arrest, and unprovoked attacks.

In October last year, Kak Sovannachey told RFA that he was beaten by police while in custody after being arrested for entering the CNRP’s abandoned headquarters to collect flags.

He was arrested by local police after entering the party’s old headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Leu district by climbing over a fence, according to the authorities, who later released him without charge after being forced to sign a letter confessing that he had been “wrong to illegally enter a prohibited place” and vowing to refrain from doing so in the future.

In November 2020, Prum Chantha told RFA that five unidentified men on motorbikes had been harassing her and ordering her to defect to the CPP to secure her husband’s freedom, as well as to abandon her protests calling for her husband’s release.

In December last year, she was among a group of family members of detained opposition activists, environmental campaigners, and musicians who met with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy to discuss weekly crackdowns by authorities on protesters, prompting rights groups to welcome Washington’s show of concern.

Prum Chantha said at the time that Murphy vowed to “follow up on family issues and concerns” related to the political detainees. She said he also expressed concern for their safety, citing a series of incidents that included the violent dispersal of their peaceful protests by authorities.

Following the meeting, Prum Chantha went to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, where Kak Komphear is being held, to discuss the meeting with him, and said that his health had become “much worse” since being interned.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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