Cambodia’s National Military Police Department on Friday suspended six officers from neighboring Tbong Khmum and Prey Veng provinces who allegedly shot at and tortured four villagers last month after they tried to avoid paying a fee for driving an overloaded vehicle.
The decision to suspend the officers, including a district chief and the head of a commune police department, was made by National Military Police Commander in Chief Sao Sokha after an investigation into the case concluded that the six had acted in breach of the law.
Deputy Commander in Chief Sin Sophani told a press conference in Phnom Penh that the officers, who had been drinking when the incident occurred, had “abused their status as military police” and ignored internal police regulations.
He said the policemen had used unnecessary force in firing their weapons at the villagers and lied about what occurred when confronted by their superiors.
“They all acknowledged that guns were fired, but they denied torturing the victims,” Sin Sophani said.
“They refused to confess tying up the victims and torturing them, but what they did was a form of torture. It is unacceptable, so we must take action and send the case to court for prosecution.”
He said the six officers are being held in detention pending trial.
The military police on March 22 had established a committee to investigate the incident which occurred three days earlier when four villagers transporting 31 tons of unmilled rice on an overloaded truck refused to stop at a weigh station manned by three of the accused officers.
Three additional military police joined in the pursuit of the villagers, who hit another vehicle during the chase, causing two people to suffer injuries.
The driver of the truck eventually pulled over after officers fired several shots at the vehicle, blowing out its windshield.
According to the investigation, the military police officers then stripped the villagers down to their underwear, tied them up and proceeded to beat them.
Pictures of the incident, which were posted on social media, purported to show the villagers bound and lying on a road while a military police officer stepped on their heads.
Am Sam Ath, an investigator with local rights group Licadho, welcomed the decision to suspend the officers Friday and called on the court to refrain from showing them leniency if they are found guilty.
“This is a positive sign that will ensure officers carry out their work according to the law and do not act arbitrarily,” he said.
In September, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) urged Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to end “the rampant impunity for law enforcement officials in Cambodia” after authorities had failed to launch a probe into the killing of a man who was shot dead when police opened fire on opposition-led protests in Phnom Penh a year earlier.
CCHR urged the government to ensure that Cambodia’s security forces adhere to the country’s legal obligations according to the U.N.’s rules on use of force and punish those who are found to violate them.
Reported by Yeang Socheameta for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.