A former bodyguard of opposition leader Sam Rainsy was left bloodied by two unknown assailants on Sunday while two members of the dissolved opposition party were arrested the day before, the victim and a rights group said on Monday.
Pouk Chanda, who once protected Rainsy and now works as a security guard at the party leader’s Phnom Penh residence, said he did not expect to receive justice after being battered with a metal bar on the back of the head in a drive-by attack.
“I’m worried about my safety, but I’ll keep working as a guard,” Chanda told VOD.
He said he was attacked from behind by two unidentified men driving by on a motorbike while he was walking home from a market at about 9 a.m. The incident occurred in Meanchey district about 100 meters from the former headquarters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), located near Rainsy’s house.
Chanda said the men escaped after the assault. He filed a complaint to the Chak Angre Krom commune police chief after the incident, accusing the perpetrators of attempted manslaughter.
Chanda did not comment about a possible motive behind the violent attack, but said he never had a quarrel with anyone.
National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said authorities were investigating and did not discriminate based on political allegiances.
“Anyone who is a victim is protected by law,” Kim Khoeun said. “Our authorities have to find and arrest [the suspects].”
Rainsy, who has lived abroad since 2015 to avoid a slew of court convictions, including insulting the king, has vowed to return to Cambodia on November 9, which is the nation’s Independence Day.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other officials have said that Rainsy and other senior CNRP leaders would be arrested upon any attempt to enter Cambodia.
Mu Sochua, a former CNRP deputy president who also lives abroad and has vowed to return to Cambodia, called Chanda Rainsy’s “most trusted” bodyguard.
“No one knows the two men who attacked him. They wore helmets” that covered their faces, Sochua said.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, said the situation, especially recent arrests and violence against CNRP activists, was getting worse, which was concerning considering Cambodia’s duty-free access to the European Union is currently under threat due to political and human rights concerns.
“We worry that if these cases continue to happen, it will lead to even more criticism from the international community,” Sam Ath said.
Since January, 28 former CNRP members have been arrested and detained in relation to expressing their support for the banned CNRP and Rainsy’s return, including two people in Ratanakiri province over the weekend, Sam Ath said.
One man was arrested in O’Yadaw district and the other in Banlung City, Sam Ath said.
The Ratanakiri Provincial Court issued orders to detain Ngin Sophat and Thoeun Bunthorn on the charge of plotting an attack, according to Kim Khoeun, the police spokesman. The charge carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.
Court prosecutor Ngin Pech did not confirm the charge but said the two suspects were being questioned by a judge.
Sophat’s daughter Ngin Kongkea said her father was arrested in O’Yadaw district on Saturday while having coffee and without an arrest warrant being shown.
Kongkea called for help from officials and rights organizations to find justice for her father and let him return home because he has high blood pressure.
Bunthorn’s wife Yann Nary told Radio Free Asia that her husband was arrested at a restaurant and accused of gathering people to support Rainsy.
“It is said my husband posted news of gathering people to participate in welcoming Mr. Sam Rainsy’s return,” Nary said, adding that his arrest was “not right because this is the free expression of people.”
More than 150 ex-CNRP members have been summoned for questioning by police and the courts this year, including for allegedly violating the Supreme Court’s order that dissolved the party by gathering over Cambodian noodles.
Rainsy claimed in a Facebook post on Sunday that he had learned that Hun Sen intended to order King Norodom Sihamoni to “issue another appeal to try to dissuade the people from going to welcome me on the day of my return to Cambodia” on November 9 “because Hun Sen is very afraid of my return.”
“Therefore, whatever our puppet King does, he only does it under Hun Sen’s orders. We must come to liberate the King from Hun Sen’s grip,” Rainsy said.
The day before he called the prime minister a “national traitor” who had sold out the country to China for his family’s exclusive benefit.
“The Cambodian people must topple Hun Sen if they want to prevent Cambodia from becoming a Chinese colony,” Rainsy said in a post.
The Justice Ministry on Friday warned that any public officials participating in Rainsy’s opposition movement faced life imprisonment under the Criminal Code.
“The whole plan of the announced return of Sam Rainsy is not a matter of democracy or any human rights issue, but it’s a plan attempting to commit a coup,” according to the ministry statement.
The CNRP has vowed to have funds available for defecting soldiers, and Rainsy has previously called on soldiers and rivals within the ruling party to stand up against the government, though he has denied calling for a coup.
The Justice Ministry cited the charge of an attack, described in the law as “one or more acts of violence liable to endanger the institutions” of the government or “violate the integrity of the national territory.”
Public officials convicted of committing an “attack” face life in prison.
Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco