Updated: CNRP Activist Slain Overnight in Phnom Penh, Witness Recalls Slashing

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Wat Chas after the killing of CNRP activist Sin Khon, on November 21, 2021. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
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An opposition activist was killed around 1 a.m. Sunday in Phnom Penh, with a witness saying she saw him running from near Wat Chas as assailants slashed his body with a sword.

Sin Khon, an activist for the outlawed CNRP, was previously attacked in May when struck in the back of the head, similar to some of the assaults against several other opposition activists since the party’s dissolution in 2017.

Srey Nuth, a 31-year-old food vendor outside Chroy Changva’s Wat Chas, said she was cleaning up her stall around 1 a.m. when she saw the attack.

“He was running from there,” she said, pointing toward Wat Chas. “He fell over there,” Nuth said, moving her finger toward the front step of her shop. “And then they slashed him over here.”

The vendor is just one street over from the pagoda. The activist fell on a metal ramp on the sidewalk in front of her food cart.

“The dishwasher saw it happen and called out for help, but there was no one to help. I grabbed my son and ran inside. I panicked,” Nuth said, unable to identify the number of attackers. “There was blood everywhere and it was flowing into the sewage drain.”

The activist had bought beef stomach about an hour before the attack, she said.

“He was kind and soft spoken. I feel terribly sorry he was killed. I feel bad and pity for him. I wish I had CCTV to help with the investigation.”

The vendor said police and an ambulance took the body away before returning it, though a monk at Wat Chas said the activist had been brought inside still alive.

The monk, who declined to be named, saying the incident was too political, said Khon had lived at the pagoda for around 10 years.

“Sin Khon was my assistant, my disciple. He was a CNRP youth activist as well,” he said.

On Sunday morning, there were straw mats laid out in Wat Chas. Khon’s body lay in the middle with a white cloth placed over his body as incense burned. There were monks, friends and family seated around, some people trickling in to pay their respects. A few police officers stood around.

The monk said Khon’s body had four gashes on his back and right leg, as if “hit with a samurai sword.”

He added that Khon had been “an outspoken and active youth.”

The monk recalled the first attack against Khon in May, which happened around 8 a.m. in broad daylight. The activist was beaten on the back of the head and hand.

“This attack was to traumatize him,” he said, suggesting that Khon had also received death threats, without elaborating.

A mechanic working outside Wat Chas was reluctant to answer questions about the incident. He said vaguely that he had received a call around 2 a.m. from his brother, who sounded panicked while asking to be picked up.

Pressed for more details, the mechanic said he had been asked not to speak to the media. 

“The police asked me not to talk to journalists,” he said. “I was not here so I do not need to give you my phone number and I was asked not to talk to journalists.”

The monk from Wat Chas said a mechanic was usually outside the front gate of the pagoda and could have witnessed the murder.

A bar employee right next to Wat Chas said the bar and riverfront area were packed with people drinking and celebrating the Water Festival holidays. He did not know if Khon was drinking nearby, and only saw a commotion around 1 a.m. when the attack took place.

Sin Yon, Khon’s older sister, said the family was alerted by local Champa commune police where they live in Takeo province’s Prey Kabbas district around 4 a.m. early Sunday morning. She had little information about the murder, and police had only told her that her brother was dead after being slashed.

The family knew little of Khon’s activities with the CNRP, Yon said, and didn’t even know where he studied or worked.

“I asked what he did and he said he was studying and working,” she said at Wat Chas. “I have no idea where he was studying.”

According to CNRP vice president Mu Sochua as of last year, at least 16 former members of the outlawed party were assaulted since the party was dissolved. She called the attacks “systematic.”

Among those attacked is the teenage son of jailed CNRP activist Kak Komphear. The boy was struck in the back of the head with a brick in April, and was later arrested for online messages insulting officials. His mother, an active protester pressing for her husband’s release, has raised accusations of the attack against her son of being political, an attempt to deter her from activism.

Few, if any, of the assaults against opposition activists have led to arrests.

Phnom Penh municipal police spokesperson San Sokseyha confirmed Khon had been killed in Chroy Changva early morning Sunday, and said expert officials were now investigating the case.

“Generally speaking, we can’t make an evaluation before the results come out, so we have  to investigate so we can make clarifications on what the case will be,” Sokseyha said.

Nevertheless, he said that based on initial information, there was a gathering for drinks in front of the pagoda.

The monk denied that Khon was out drinking. It is yet unclear from where Khon had come running.

Police at Wat Chas declined to comment on the murder. A local official, who refused to give their position, said: “We are actively searching for the person who committed the murder. We are searching and cannot share information right now.”

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

Updated at 2:45 p.m. with comments from the mechanic, bar employee and Khon’s sister.

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