Thai Sameat, 26, said the beating he received at the hands of Prey Veng police officers was like nothing he had ever experienced.
The external cruelty of the violence was already severe; but what seemed even more so was the internal brutality of the officers pummeling him and his friend after they left a restaurant on July 20, knowing the pain they were causing, Sameat said.
On Monday, National Police chief Neth Savoeun signed a letter suspending seven Prey Veng anti-drug officials, including the officer that Sameat and his friend filed a complaint against.
Officials linked the suspensions to the use of violence during drug raids, and, according to a local police chief, Sameat’s case was not the first time the provincial anti-drug bureau had been involved in a similar incident.
Sameat told VOD that he and his friend were leaving a restaurant at about 9:45 p.m. on July 20 when Touch Theara, the province’s anti-drug deputy bureau chief, stopped them.
Sameat said the officer, who was in civilian clothes, called his friend arrogant and began beating him, and Sameat told the officer he would take photos of Theara’s violence if he did not stop.
Sameat said Theara then called in three other officers to beat them both with a baton and electrically shock Sameat’s friend before taking them to the provincial police headquarters.
The officers then ordered the two men to each pay 2 million riel ($500) for their release. Sameat said they both paid and fingerprinted a document, which Sameat said he later regretted.
“I have never had any fighting at home and never visited the village or commune police station, only for making ID cards,” he said. “I feel disappointed, and I never meant such a thing.”
He had never experienced such violence, he said. “Such beatings are cruel already, externally; but internally, they beat [us] knowing how brutal it was.”
Sameat was released the following day, on July 21. On July 22, he took a urinalysis test at the provincial referral hospital and a blood test at Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh in order to prove that he was not using drugs, showing the test results to VOD.
He then submitted a complaint against Theara to the Cheung Toek commune police on July 23, saying he feared others would also face violence from the officer.
“I want [the authorities] to find justice and punish the perpetrator according to the law,” he said.
Prey Veng city police chief Nut Bundoeun confirmed that two men aged 26 and 28 had filed complaints of extortion and intentional violence against Theara. Bundoeun said he submitted the case file to the provincial court on Wednesday afternoon.
“It is a wrongdoing,” Bundoeun said. “We cannot do that. Only if [the suspects] were doing a kind of armed robbery, then we can use self-defense, but if they are empty-handed and we beat them, it is wrong.”
Bundoeun said that the seven people suspended by National Police on Monday were not only involved in this latest case. Some of the seven were involved in a previous case in Pea Reang district, in which those accused of drug trafficking were asked to pay for their release, he said, though he would not go into detail about the earlier case.
Cheung Toek commune police chief Sam Phalla said the two victims of the latest case were residents in his jurisdiction and that their parents had filed a complaint about the incident on July 23.
Phalla said he had reviewed the details of the incident as well as the negative drug test results of both men. He said he submitted the case to Prey Veng City police on Friday or Saturday.
The letter signed by National Police chief Savoeun on Monday named Theara for suspension as well as Thorng Vandy, deputy provincial police chief in charge of drug-combatting; anti-drug bureau chief Pov Chivoan; Sy Bo, a section chief in the anti-drug bureau; and anti-drug bureau officials Heng Chanratana, Siek Chanthoeun and Yun Daraphors.
During the suspension, the seven officials are required to report to the provincial headquarters every working hour until further notice, the letter said.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said on Wednesday that the seven officials had violated the police code of professionalism and discipline by using violence against suspects as they made an arrest for a drug-related crime.
Pov Chivy, deputy provincial police chief in charge of serious crimes, noted that the victims had filed a complaint against only one of the seven named officials.
“We will look into the facts of who was involved in illegal acts,” Chivy said. “The victim filed a complaint against one official only. I want to say that the victim filed a complaint to authorities in order to find justice.”
Prum Santhor, Prey Veng provincial police chief, could not be reached for comment.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said that if police use violence against a person who is restrained, unarmed or otherwise incapable of fighting back, it would be considered intentional violence.
“For example, if one was arrested and was tied up already, does that person have the ability to attack the police or not?” Sam Oeun asked. “If [that person] cannot and is in turn beaten up by police, it will become intentional violence. That will be intentional violence and if it leads to death, that will be another thing.”
Under the Criminal Code, intentional violence carries penalties starting with a prison term between one and three years and a fine between 2 million and 6 million riel ($500 to $1,500), with higher punishments based on circumstances.
Late last month, three plainclothes police officers in Phnom Penh’s Kbal Koh commune were caught on video using force against a man accused of buying drugs, attempting to restrain him, kicking him while he was on the ground and hauling him onto a motorbike. After a witness’s video circulated on social media, Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Sar Thet issued a warning to the three officers, but they were not suspended or punished.
Soeng Senkaruna, spokesperson for human rights group Adhoc, urged the government to take legal action against officers who use violence in arrests, rather than suspending them or sending warnings.
He suggested that the latest instance of violence in Prey Veng was similar to previous cases, saying that the violence would continue without discipline.
“Previously, we have seen action taken in some cases while in other cases, no action was taken, and so it will still make such things happen again,” Senkaruna said. “As for the case in Prey Veng province, it is an example that followed previous [similar] cases.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)