Covid-19 Arrests: Parties, Not Wearing Masks, Smuggling on Ambulances

A courtroom equipped with transparent screen as Covid-19 precautions, in a photo posted to Justice Ministry official Kim Santepheap’s Facebook page on April 16, 2021.
A courtroom equipped with transparent screen as Covid-19 precautions, in a photo posted to Justice Ministry official Kim Santepheap’s Facebook page on April 16, 2021.

Five people have been sentenced to one year in prison in Kampong Cham and Takeo provinces for violating the Covid-19 Law after drinking in groups against public health protocols, amid a slew of arrests across the country for parties, illegal travel, not wearing masks and breaking curfew.

In Takeo, provincial governor Ouch Phea said four young men were sentenced to one year in prison and fined $250 each under the Covid-19 Law for loud parties at their residences in violation of health measures.

“They played loudspeakers at their homes and disrupted their neighbors and opposed the government’s rules that ban gatherings, drinking and dancing and other things, and [require people] to stay at home.”

Provincial military police arrested the four on Sunday in Samraong district, Phea said.

“We have already sentenced them,” he said.

In Kampong Cham, a provincial court document dated Tuesday said a man, Yun Seang Hy, 50, was sentenced for obstructing enforcement under the Covid-19 Law as well as insult under the Criminal Code.

The document said Seang Hy admitted to insulting local authorities who were enforcing health measures “set out with the aim of protecting the lives of citizens.” The court sentenced him on Tuesday to one year in prison, it said.

A district police official said he could not comment publicly, but confirmed the case and said about five others were drinking with Seang Hy but had not been charged as they were cooperative. Seang Hy had cursed officers as “dogs” and was “much too drunk,” the official said.

The country has been put under a travel ban amid a surge of cases ahead of the Khmer New Year holiday last week, with alcohol sales also suspended. Many areas mandated social distancing and banned gatherings.

Phnom Penh currently has almost 3,000 active cases, and has been put under lockdown alongside Kandal province’s Takhmao city. Kampong Cham currently has 14 active cases, while Takeo has 42 cases, according to Health Ministry data tracked by VOD.

As cases rise, authorities are taking sterner action across the country. Dozens have been arrested in Preah Sihanouk for not wearing a mask or crossing closed checkpoints; six people were arrested in two separate cases for using ambulances to illegally cross provincial lines; and a German 36-year-old arrested in Kampot for violating curfew and “inciting” a drinking event on Facebook.

Cases reported on the National Police website include two groups of six people arrested on Monday for having a party with alcohol; a van stopped in Kampot province smuggling 11 Chinese passengers out of Preah Sihanouk; five people who illegally crossed from Phnom Penh to Prey Veng, including two Covid-19 patients; and a private ambulance stopped in Stung Treng while trying to take passengers from Phnom Penh to Ratanakiri.

The ambulance was carrying four people — two workers at Preah Kossamak hospital and two Ratanakiri residents — and was stopped on Saturday when authorities found it had no official transport order. The ambulance was privately owned by a doctor at the hospital, and the passengers had been charged $600 for the transport, according to National Police.

Preah Sihanouk provincial immigration authorities meanwhile reported that two Chinese nationals were due to be deported on Saturday after they were arrested driving an ambulance across provincial borders from Kampot in violation of the travel ban.

The two men, Li Changqing and Wang Youzhi, “drove without removing the ambulance’s logo and drove without permission from the Ministry of Health,” the report said without specifying the ambulance’s origins.

In Kampot, provincial police posted on Facebook that Kaske Steve, a 36-year-old German national, was arrested on Sunday for violating curfew.

The man “even incited drinking on the social network Facebook at 21:00 on April 17, 2021,” provincial police said, adding that he was sent to the provincial court.

Kandal police said it had arrested and fined three people who drank coffee at a coffee shop in Takhmao city on Sunday in violation of the city’s lockdown.

One of the men, Mao Pak, said he was fined $250 and required to pay within a month.

He said the group was getting gasoline and stopped in front of the coffee shop, where there were two village security guards and the shop’s owner.

“As soon as I stopped at the house and got a cup of tea from the house, police arrived. I had just a sip of the tea and the police arrived,” Pak said. “I thought they would educate me but instead they fined me.”

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said Monday that authorities were taking strict action against violators, including a man who had cut down police tape separating lockdown areas.

“One of them cut the barrier of the authorities. No need to ask a lot of questions. [He] must go to prison,” Kim Khoeun said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha said only a small number of people were defying the government’s measures, but those who did would face the law.

“Some individuals are ignorant about the measures. [But] sometimes it is not that they do not know, they are disobedient to all the efforts, so we have measures in place to prevent [this] and prevent further outbreaks,” Sokseyha said.

Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said authorities had detained 60 people, including 15 who did not wear masks, 43 who crossed closed checkpoints and two who escaped quarantine. They were all sent to court, he said.

“In Sihanoukville, it is spreading, it is still happening and requires brothers and sisters to cooperate. We do not want to impose fines. We want our people to cooperate rather than just fines and punishments,” Phearum said. “If you do not listen … there is no choice but to punish and punish.”

Kampong Thom provincial governor Sok Lou added that authorities on Sunday arrested 12 people who posted pictures on TikTok of themselves drinking, though they were released without fines.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson of rights group Adhoc, said authorities should show some mercy as the government had introduced many new rules in a short period of time.

“Sign agreements with them so that they do not violate the bans or the rules, rather than take legal action, because everyone is already suffering from the Covid problem,” Senkaruna said. “I think it seems severe.”

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