Authorities in Cambodia are investigating the murder of an opposition activist who had recently defected from the country’s royalist party to determine if the killing was politically motivated, a police official and the member of a local rights group said Monday.
Seng Nak, 43, was found dead on May 6 in a rice field in Siem Reap province’s Puok district by villagers from Yeang commune who said he had been trying to trap mice for food.
Puok district police chief Tep Phumsen confirmed that the death of Seng Nak had been ruled “a murder case.”
However, the police chief told RFA’s Khmer Service that investigators had not determined whether Seng Nak’s murder was politically motivated or related to some other dispute.
“We are still investigating the case—we can’t make any assumptions yet,” he said.
Seng Nak switched allegiances from Cambodia’s royalist Funcinpec party to the now defunct opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) to run as a candidate for Yeang commune ahead of the country’s 2012 commune elections, but did not win.
He remained with the party after it became the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) under Sam Rainsy later that year and challenged Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the country’s 2013 general elections.
Chhuy Chantha, a coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said after inspecting Seng Nak’s body that the activist appeared to have been shot with a homemade firearm.
“It was a murder case—there are bruises on his body and head,” she added.
Sok Kimseng, deputy president of the CNRP in Siem Reap, urged authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators of Seng Nak’s murder to justice, regardless of whether his death was found to be politically motivated.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, May 11, 2015. Credit: RFA
Also on Monday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua over her role in allegedly leading or participating in a violent July 15, 2014 demonstration in the capital’s Freedom Park during which at least 40 people—mostly security guards—were injured.
She was among six other opposition lawmakers and several other CNRP members who were arrested in the aftermath of the protest and who face charges of insurrection, which carries a prison term of up to 30 years on conviction.
Mu Sochua refused to answer all questions from court judge Keo Mony on Monday, saying the court had abused her right to immunity as a lawmaker.
“The court has abused the constitution,” she told reporters after the hearing, calling for the charges against her to be dropped. “I reserved my rights [not to answer] today.”
Article 80 of Cambodia’s constitution grants lawmakers immunity and says any charges leveled against them must be first approved by the National Assembly (parliament), or the assembly’s permanent committee.
RFA was unable to reach Keo Mony for comment on Monday.
Licadho senior investigator Am Sam Ath, who monitored the proceedings, called the court’s decision to question Mu Sochua “contradictory” to the law.
“If the court proceeds to charge a lawmaker, it means that being a lawmaker is worthless,” he said, adding that the court must consult with the National Assembly before summoning any members of parliament.
“If any lawmaker can be summoned by the court, immunity is useless,” he said.
Mu Sochua and the six other CNRP lawmakers had not officially been sworn in as members of parliament at the time of the July protest, due to an ongoing boycott of the National Assembly by the opposition amid disputed 2013 elections.
Because the politicians were not sworn in when they were arrested, their detention was believed to be the impetus for the CNRP to end its boycott of parliament, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
Even though they were sworn in later last August, they still would not be granted parliamentary immunity, Hun Sen said earlier this year.Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.