Environmental Authorities Deny Suspicions After Death in Custody

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Forestland in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pursat’s Veal Veng district. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)

A logger who died in custody had no bruises as alleged and may have had mental health issues, a Pursat environmental official said of a 22-year-old man arrested for cutting trees in a protected area.

Chan Vith, 22, was arrested on February 6 during a patrol by rangers, military police and Wildlife Alliance staff in Veal Veng district, according to a provincial environment department statement.

The patrolers found eight people in the process of cutting forest to clear and claim the land, but seven of them escaped, the statement says.

Vith was taken to the provincial environmental department and held for questioning. The next day, he was sent to the provincial court for questioning until 5:30 p.m. then held overnight.

“On the morning of February 8, 2022, at 7:40 a.m., our officials bought rice and water for the suspect to eat, and at 8:30 a.m., our officials walked to the suspect’s room to bring the suspect to the Pursat Provincial Court to continue interrogation and suddenly found the suspect had hanged himself in the bathroom,” the statement says.

An autopsy concluded that Vith died of suicide, and the body was returned to his grandfather. The environmental department and Wildlife Alliance contributed to funeral arrangements, it says.

Vith’s family told local media that his body had bruises on it, with the environment department statement denying suspicions cast by Vith’s aunt, who purportedly said that the body had black bruises on its shoulders.

National Committee Against Torture chairman Nuth Sa An said the family should provide information if it wanted an investigation.

“We need to get some clear information,” Sa An said.

Provincial environmental department head Kong Puthtyra said Vith would have been released if he had identified who had hired him.

“We didn’t expect him to do what he did because it was such a crime, it was a very minor crime,” Puthtyra said.

There were no bruises on Vith’s body, and he was already dead when officials came in, he said.

“According to my subordinate [and] his father who came to take the body, the son seemed to have mental problems and it could be that he was impulsive.”

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