Fisheries Official Says Officers Saved Man, not Beat Him to Near Death

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Toem Vi is surrounded by family members outside his house in Takeo province’s Angkor Borey district on January 15, 2021. (Heng Vichet/VOD)
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A Takeo fisherman, who witnesses say was beaten by fisheries patrol officers and is now near death at his home, was about to drown after jumping into the water and getting struck by a propeller, a Fisheries Administration official said on Wednesday.

Two fishers who were on the boat with the injured man, Toem Vi, said on Friday that they fled the scene as the officers arrived to crack down on their illegal fishing, and one recounted seeing them rain blows on Vi’s head.

Kim Sarith, deputy inspector for Takeo province’s Chaktomuk fisheries area, where the incident took place, said on Wednesday that officers had been trying to rescue the fisherman.

“We were patrolling along the channel to the west of Koh Anchanh, where it is narrow. The boat was moving slowly and it was dark,” Sarith said. Officers saw another boat coming in the opposite direction. It sped up, and a man jumped out of it before it collided with the fisheries officers’ boat, he said.

The officers picked the man out of the water and gave him emergency first aid, he said.

“We found that all the equipment was illegal, including electrical fishing gear,” Sarith said. “The person was drowning and injured, and was hit by a propeller.”

“As you know, using electric shocks and this equipment is very destructive,” he said. “Last but not least, I would like to strongly deny any unreasonable and unacceptable publication [of information].”

Provincial deputy governor Khan Sokha said that according to a report he had received, the fishermen’s boat “turned upside down.”

“He was a perpetrator,” Sokha said.

Deputy Angkor Borey district police chief Ouk Sarath, however, said police would decide what happened. Witnesses and evidence pointed to a different story from the official account, he suggested.

“Through checking his wounds, they were not caused from a boat crash because he has many injuries — they’re on the top of his head, his sides and back,” Sarath said.

“If a propeller hit his head, his head would have been nearly cut off,” Sarath added.

The case was now before provincial police, he said.

“I speak the truth and don’t take sides because I am also a referee.”

On Friday, family gathered around Vi, who lay on a wooden platform outside his house. The family said they could not afford hospital treatment, and understood that he was unlikely to recover. Financial hardships pushed many in the area to use banned fishing equipment, they said.

“We accept that my nephew was fishing illegally,” Vi’s uncle Tu Rim said at the time. “The authorities could have arrested and imprisoned him or demanded he pay a fine if they knew he was committing a crime. But to beat him nearly to death like that. … He should keep his life.”

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