Cambodian man beaten for second time in protest of school expulsion

Keo Sovannrith and others were assaulted by police in August in a video widely seen on Facebook.
By RFA Khmer
2023.10.10
Cambodian man beaten for second time in protest of school expulsion Authorities beat Keo Sovannrith in front of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports during a protest in the Daun Penh district of Phnom Penh on Oct. 9, 2023.
Credit: Citizen journalist

A 20-year-old Cambodian man who was thrown out of a state-run school because he was too short has again been assaulted by security forces as he staged another protest against his expulsion.

Keo Sovannrith told Radio Free Asia that he was demonstrating alone in front of the Ministry of Education on Monday when local authorities in civilian uniforms pulled him into a car and beat him, leaving him with a torn shirt.

“I am very upset for a society with such authority,” he told RFA. “I was slapped in the face. I was dizzy. I could not get up.” 

Keo Sovannrith gained admission to the National Institute of Physical Education last November despite standing 162 centimeters (5 foot 4 inches) tall, under the 165 centimeter (5 foot 5 inch) minimum requirement for applicants.

But in December, shortly after participating in an entrance ceremony at a Phnom Penh stadium, he was removed from enrollment with no explanation, along with 11 other prospective students.

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Keo Sovannrith protests in front of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Phnom Penh on Aug. 28, 2023. Credit: Keo Sovannrith seeks justice Facebook

In July and August, Keo Sovannrith and several others protested each Monday in front of the ministry to demand readmission to the teacher training program. They said the institute’s enrollment requirements were too opaque and randomly applied.

Police surrounded and beat them on Aug. 21. Video of the incident was widely viewed on Facebook.

Plans to sue authorities

On Monday, Keo Sovannrith said he protested alone at the Ministry of Education because the other 11 former students are either too afraid to demonstrate or can’t afford to travel to Phnom Penh.

He added that the Ministry of Education recently offered him a government job so that he would stop protesting. He told RFA that he turned them down because he prefers to be a physical education trainer and wants justice for his expulsion.

“I understand that violence is against the law. I will sue them,” referring to the officials in the Phnom Penh district of Daun Penh who assaulted him.

RFA wasn’t able to reach Daun Penh district Inspector Teang Chansar and Ministry of Education spokesman Kan Puthy for comment on Monday. Daun Penh district Gov. Chea Khema told RFA he was too busy to answer questions.

Monday’s beating of Keo Sovannrith is just the latest example of Cambodian authorities using violence against non-violent protesters, said Am Sam Ath of human rights group Licadho. 

“We as civil society organizations do not support any act of violence, no matter which side it is on,” he said. “Authorities should especially be tolerant in all these matters.”

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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