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Cambodia: Chilling Account of Attacks on Legislators

Brazen Assault on Opposition Calls for UN Investigation

(Bangkok) – Two opposition members of parliament described in chilling detail how an organized group dragged them from their cars and beat them as they tried to leave Cambodia’s National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on October 26, Human Rights Watch said today. Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the surrender of those who attacked Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) members of parliament Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen, who are recuperating from serious injuries in a Bangkok hospital. However, the police have made no arrests, despite extensive video and photo coverage of the attacks.

Cambodia National Rescue Party Member of Parliament Kung Sophea at a Bangkok Hospital after the October 26 attack outside the Cambodian National Assembly in Phnom Penh. October 29, 2015. © 2015 Human Rights Watch

“The brazen nature of these brutal attacks on members of parliament sends the message that the little remaining democratic space in Cambodia is seriously threatened,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Donor governments should make clear that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s condemnation of the attacks only has credibility if he calls for an independent UN investigation.”

Human Rights Watch said the government should ask the Cambodia field office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into the attack, and make a commitment to act on its findings.

Human Rights Watch interviewed Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen as they lay in their hospital beds in Bangkok, and spoke with other witnesses to the assaults.

The two men told Human Rights Watch that when they arrived at the National Assembly on October 26, the barbed wire barricades that normally surround the building for protection during parliamentary sessions were not set up. Guards told them on entering the building that the security scanners were not functioning.

Later that morning, several thousand “protesters” gathered outside the National Assembly to demand the removal of Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition CNRP, from his post as National Assembly first vice-chairman. Witnesses and photographs identified elements of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit in civilian dress and non-uniformed members of units under the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, including regular and para-police.

While the demonstrations continued outside, at about noon, after casting their last parliamentary vote for the day, Sophea and Chamraoen attempted to leave the National Assembly compound in separate cars. Both cars approached their usual exit gate on the northwest corner to find the gate closed, with a guard directing them south toward the main west gate. After arriving at the west gate, both cars were again turned away by a guard, although another car was allowed to exit just ahead of them. Sophea and Chamraoen then drove to the rarely used “side” exit to the south of the National Assembly.

Sophea said that his driver told him that after the car turned from the gate, he saw a man in a red hat across the street speak into a walkie-talkie and gesture at their car. After heading down the street a short distance, their car was blocked by another man holding a walkie-talkie. Soon, a crowd of roughly 20 to 30 men surrounded their car. The man with the red hat opened the car door and, with two others, pulled Sophea out of his car and began punching and kicking him in the chest, head and back.

Altogether, the men beat Sophea three times as he got back into his car and was pulled out again. Video shows the last two times Sophea is pulled from his car while being kicked on the ground by his attackers. The beating only stopped when the men left Sophea to attack Chamraoen.

Chamraoen told Human Rights Watch that by the time he exited the gate in his vehicle, he could see that Sophea was being attacked about 10 meters ahead of him. Police were standing about five meters from Sophea’s car watching the violence – without attempting to stop it.

The assailants soon surrounded Chamraoen’s car, with one using a walkie-talkie to smash the car window, open the door, and drag Chamraoen out. He recalls seeing a man pointing at him from outside his car saying, “This one too!” The men began to punch and kick Chamraoen in the face, arms, and back. Video shows the end of Chamraoen’s attack, as an assailant stomps on his chest. While apparently struggling to remain conscious, he was helped back into the National Assembly.

Later that day, several hundred men arrived at Kem Sokha’s residence in northern Phnom Penh and hurled rocks and bottles at his home. Calls were made by Sokha and his wife to the Ministry of the Interior with no response for more than five hours, while Sokha’s wife hid inside in terror.

The injuries to Sophea and Chamraoen were extensive. Sophea suffered a broken nose and welts and bruises to his head. Repeated kicks to the back resulted in lingering lower-back pain. He suffered a sprained finger and a bruised shin. His right eardrum was torn, requiring an operation, and it is unclear whether he will recover full hearing in the ear. Chamraoen suffered three fractures in his right wrist. He underwent a five-hour operation on his eye socket, as a broken bone below the eye was pushing up into the socket, endangering the eye. He also has a broken nose, a broken front tooth, a bruised left wrist, and significant chest pain.

The two members of parliament told Human Rights Watch that they fear for their safety if they return to Cambodia.

The October 26 violence in Phnom Penh occurred days after demonstrators gathered in Paris to protest Hun Sen’s visit to meet with French President François Hollande. Hun Sen had warned of attacks against the CNRP if the rally against him went on as planned.

“This attack is sadly reminiscent of the March 30, 1997 grenade attack on opposition leader Sam Rainsy that killed 16 and injured more than 150, when the police stood down and Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit was implicated,” Adams said. “Those responsible for the 1997 attack were never prosecuted, so Cambodia’s donors should send a clear message that government involvement in the attack on members of parliament will have consequences for their relationship and assistance.”

On October 30, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) organized a session of the National Assembly to remove Kem Sokha from his post as vice-chairperson of the parliament. The session was boycotted by the CNRP. Sokha had been installed in the post as part of the deal between the CPP and CNRP, in which the CNRP agreed to end its boycott of the National Assembly after the fundamentally flawed elections in 2013.

“The ruling party’s removal of Kem Sokha from his parliamentary post is a blatant attempt to divide and scare the opposition into submission,” Adams said. “One day Hun Sen says he wants to work with the opposition, the next day they are attacked and removed from their positions in parliament. No deal with Hun Sen is worth the paper it is written on.”

Please see below for photos and a more detailed account of the attacks from Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen.



Statement of Kung Sophea 

Cambodia National Rescue Party Member of Parliament Kung Sophea at a Bangkok Hospital after the October 26 attack outside the Cambodian National Assembly in Phnom Penh. October 29, 2015. © 2015 Human Rights Watch

Usually, when I arrive for parliamentary meetings, I see barbed wire barricades surround the National Assembly building. I thought it was strange that they were not set up this morning. When I arrived at the security scanner, I noticed that the usual six to seven guards at the entrance were fewer. This time only a few men were at the scanners and they told me that the security scanners were broken that day.

After I cast my last vote in parliament, I did not wait around for my vote to be counted, I went to the exit and walked out of the building and was picked up by my driver. We went to the first gate to the right of the main gate and saw that the gate was already closed. We were directed to the main gate and saw a car pass through in front of us, but the guards told us to go on and would not let us through. We eventually exited the side gate and I remember my driver telling me while he was exiting that he saw a man in a red hat across the street by the Australian embassy talk into a walkie-talkie and point at our car.

The next thing I know, I see a man standing in front of our car with a walkie-talkie in his hand. Our driver stops to avoid hitting him. A group of about 20-30 men surround the car and the man with the red hat from across the street opens my door and pulls me out of the car with the help of two other men.

I remember one of them saying as they’re punching me inside the car and pulling me out, “So you think you’re strong, huh?”

I manage to break away and get back into the car, but shortly after I’m dragged out again and punched and kicked. I start to feel dizzy and don’t remember the exact details after this but I remember getting pulled out of my car three separate times. The last time they came into my car they tore my pants and ripped my pocket to get my wallet.

My driver then takes me to my home, but I decide to go straight to CNRP headquarters instead of going inside my residence.

I don’t know what will happen to me if I go back to Cambodia.


Statement of Nhay Chamraoen

Cambodia National Rescue Party Member of Parliament Nhay Chamraoen at a Bangkok Hospital after the October 26 attack outside the Cambodian National Assembly in Phnom Penh. October 29, 2015.  © 2015 Human Rights Watch

I always enter the National Assembly early, around 6 a.m. when parliament meets. I thought it was strange that I was told the security scanners at the entrance to the building were broken. I heard that Kem Sokha was not coming to parliament today because of protests.

Later that morning at around 11 a.m., I received a message from a good friend to be careful because there were demonstrations outside. I was monitoring the situation on my phone on Facebook to keep updated on what was happening outside.

I cast my last vote around noon and did not wait for the count. I was picked up by my fiancé who was my driver that day and followed Kung Sophea’s car to our normal exit on the northwest side of the National Assembly. I saw their car get directed by a guard and the gate closed, so we followed to the main gate, the west gate. We again were waived off and we drove down to the side exit on the south side of the National Assembly towards the Australian embassy.

This seemed a bit strange to me so I tried to call my friend on my phone but I received a message saying that the system was blocked.

Once I exited through the side gate, we made a right and I see Sophea being attacked by men while he was inside his car. They were about 10 meters away. I remember seeing two police officers about 5 meters away just standing there not doing anything to stop the attack.

My fiancé tried to pull our car back but we were blocked by other cars trying to leave from the same exit behind us.

Soon, at least 10 people were surrounding my car holding objects in their hand that I couldn’t identify. I remember them yelling, “Open the door! Open the door! ... That one too!” while pointing at me. One man had a walkie-talkie and used it to smash my window and open my door and drag me out. My fiancé was hit in the back of the head and was terrified but they left her alone in the car.

I fell to the ground and I just remember a flurry of punches and kicks and tried to cover myself up as best I could but it could not stop the attacks. I lost consciousness. I saw in the video posted that someone was stomping on my chest but I did not remember that happening.

I remember people dragging me into the National Assembly building to the medical room and we waited for the doctor for about two hours but they did not come.

We eventually left together with a row of cars of members of parliament and met back at CNRP headquarters where I received some treatment.

They still have to remove wires from my right wrist to try to repair three fractures there. I am afraid of what will happen to me when I return to Cambodia. I don’t know if they were specifically targeting me or if they just wanted to get anyone from the opposition who happened to leave the National Assembly at that time. 


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