Cambodian rights groups and the country’s banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party called on Monday for an investigation into the death in police custody of the son of a CNRP activist, with the CNRP calling the death a “new form of political murder.”
Tith Rorn, 37 and the son of CNRP member Eam Tith, died on April 18 in Kampong Cham province in what police described as a fall in a jail restroom, though his body bore multiple bruises, raising fears he had been killed by jail guards.
Cambodian authorities are now trying to evade accountability for the death, the CNRP said, rejecting official explanations of how the young man died and calling on human rights groups and the international community to seek justice for his family.
Pressure should now be put on Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to end “all forms of persecution” of CNRP activists and others politically opposed to the government of long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen, the statement said.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court formally dissolved the CNRP in November 2017 following the arrest in September of party president Kem Sokha on charges of “treason,” paving the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in a July 2018 election widely seen as unfree and unfair.
The CNRP has since reorganized outside the country, with opposition leader Sam Rainsy serving as acting president, and many members remain active at the grassroots level, voicing their political views on social media and in social gatherings.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on May 6, National Police Commissariat spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said that official investigations into Tith Rorn’s death have now determined that the young man collapsed in the jail and struck his head due to being “addicted to alcohol.”
Chhay Kim Khoeun rejected CNRP accusations of the cover-up of a deliberate murder, saying, “That party always accuses everyone like this.”
Speaking to RFA, however, Tith Rorn’s father said that when his son’s body was brought home, multiple bruises and injuries including a broken neck were discovered on his body, adding,“When my son left home prior to his arrest, there were no bruises or injuries on him, and he wasn’t suffering from any illness.”
Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath—head of investigations for the Cambodian rights group Licadho—said that his organization will now conduct its own investigation to discover the truth of the circumstances leading from Tith Rorn’s April 15 arrest on a 13-year-old assault charge to the time of his death three days later.
“We want to know exactly what happened to him at every stage,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.