Cambodian Officials Promise Investigation Into Death in Custody Amid Torture Claims

Prison officials say Pin Kimseng died of pneumonia, but his body showed signs of physical assault including injuries to his head and a broken neck.
Cambodian Officials Promise Investigation Into Death in Custody Amid Torture Claims Pin Kimseng, who died in Cambodian police custody on May 3, 2021, is shown in an undated photo.
Photo: RFA

Cambodia’s National Committee Against Torture is promising to investigate the death in custody of a young detainee whose body was returned to his family bearing signs of physical assault, including injuries to his head and a broken neck, family members say.

Pin Kimseng, a 21-year-old resident of Beantey Meanchey province’s Poipet city, was found dead on May 3 after prison officials sent him for medical treatment at a referral hospital in Battambang. He had been held in custody since February in connection with a case of theft.

Hospital head Kak Seila wrote on Pin Kimseng’s death certificate that he had died of pneumonia, but the victim’s mother, Met Soksan, said her son was in good health when he was detained and had never had pneumonia in the past.

Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Met Soksan said she was recently contacted by an official named Top Samphy from the National Committee Against Torture, a department of Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior, who questioned her about her son’s death.

“I told him that my son had been tortured to death in prison,” Met Soksan said. “When I saw his body, his head was swollen, blood was flowing from his ears, and his neck appeared to be broken,” she added.

If Pin Kimseng had really died of pneumonia, prison authorities should have informed her when he first fell ill, Met Soksan said. “Instead, they just called me to collect the body after he had already passed away.”

“What had my son done wrong that they should have tortured him to death?” she asked.

Following their interview, Top Samphy told her that he would expedite an investigation into the case, she said.

Attempts by RFA to reach Top Samphy for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Drug use charged

Prison Department spokesperson Nuth Savna denied that prison officials had tortured Pin Kimseng as his mother claimed, insisting that the detainee had died of pneumonia.

“I reject the accusation of torture,” Nuth Savna told RFA, adding, “His symptoms showed clearly that he had pneumonia and that he had also been using drugs." 

"I checked about this with an expert, who told me that when [Pin Kimseng] stopped using drugs, there were serious side effects to his health," he said.

A video taken of Pin Kimseng’s body after his death, and obtained by RFA, shows visible bruising on his neck and blood flowing from both ears, staining his face.

Questions raised

The circumstances of Pin Kimseng’s death raise many questions that authorities must now look into, said Ying Mengly—Battambang provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc—welcoming the National Committee Against Torture’s promise of an investigation.

If a crime is found to have been committed, the Committee must report the facts to the Minister of the Interior for prosecution, he said.

“I would request the Committee to be more active, accurate, and independent [in their reporting] so that we can rely on them and people will have confidence in their findings,” Ying Mengly said, noting that at least three other unresolved cases of deaths in custody have recently been reported, with family members alleging torture by police.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for human rights for the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said that prisoners’ fates should be decided only by the law.

“The law on prison management says that if anyone dies in prison, there must be an investigation into the reasons for that death, and indications of torture must always be questioned,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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