Officials in a northeast Cambodian province on Wednesday rescued a family accused of being sorcerers by villagers who sought to take revenge on the father they blamed killing 10 people, local authorities said.
Mao Sann, Borkeo district police chief in Ratanakiri province, said authorities want to return the family of 10 to live in the village, although they refuse to go back.
"Even though we’ve tried to coordinate it, they dare not return,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service “The law does not include anything about sorcerers.”
Provincial governor Thorng Savun said the family had received donations of rice, canned fish and 400,000 riel (U.S. $100) when they fled to the forest after villagers tried to kill them.
Villagers had accused Rocham Pin, the 48-year-old father, of being a sorcerer who had killed at least 10 people.
But Rocham Pin denied the allegation, saying he never killed anyone.
He also said he would not return to his village.
"I am afraid of returning,” he told RFA. “The villagers don’t want us to set foot in the village anymore. I wonder why they accused me?” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator of national human rights group Adhoc, said the villagers had violated the law by organizing a mob killing and urged authorities to stop any further action.
"We need to transfer the family to live in a different village to make sure that they will feel at ease," he said.
In a separate case, police in the province arrested four people on Tuesday after they had attacked a couple accused of being sorcerers.
Mob justice thrives
Ratanakiri isn’t the only area of Cambodia where accusations of sorcery and a mentality of mob justice thrive.
Residents of a village in Siem Reap province’s Angkor Chum district recently accused three monks of being sorcerers after several people in their community fell ill, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
Fearing for their lives, the monks took refuge at the home of the village chief on Tuesday, the article said.
Such cases are not uncommon, especially among indigenous and animistic ethnic minorities in Cambodia, many of whom believe in black magic and the occult. They also fear ghosts and sorcerers on whom they blame unexpected events and unexplained deaths.
Nearly a year ago, a mob of 600 surrounded the family home of a traditional healer in Takeo province’s Bati district and accused him of sorcery. About a dozen people bludgeoned and stoned him to death, believing that he was responsible for the deaths of seven of their relatives who died within the two previous years without showing any symptoms of disease, according to an article in The Cambodia Daily.
Police later identified 11 suspects and said they would be charged with premeditated murder.
Killings of sorcerers were common about 400 years ago in Cambodia, but in the past they were carried out directly by the government, Sotheara Vong, a historian at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said in the report.
Under the law at the time, those accused of sorcery had their hands tied and were put in a sack before being thrown into a body of water, he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.