The 61-page report, “Dragged and Beaten: The Cambodian Government’s Role in the October 2015 Attack on Opposition Politicians,” shows that the three officials charged in the mob attack were not acting alone. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) transported protesters to the National Assembly in Phnom Penh a day after Hun Sen threatened to retaliate against the CNRP for demonstrating against him in Paris. Police stood by during the assault that inflicted serious injuries on assemblymen Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen. After the attack, the mob went to the home of deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha and threw stones and menaced those inside.
“The prosecution of the three bodyguard unit members for the brazen and brutal attack only scratches the surface in holding all those involved responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Prosecuting only three people while blocking investigations into the attack’s other planners and participants shows a blatant cover-up by the government and courts.”
The attack on the opposition parliamentarians had all the hallmarks of an operation carried out by Cambodian state security forces. Core participants in the anti-CNRP demonstration were later discovered to be members of Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Headquarters, whose commanders are all members of the CPP. In addition, a Bodyguard Headquarters civilian auxiliary, the Senaneak, led the demonstration. Army commanders linked to the CPP also orchestrated at least three simultaneous anti-CNRP demonstrations by armed troops in uniform in the provinces.
Following intensive media coverage of the attack, three so-called hands-on perpetrators videoed at the scene – Sot Vanny, Mao Houen, and Chay Sarit – “confessed” to the attack a week later. They stood trial on April 28 and May 10, for “intentional acts of violence under aggravating circumstances and intentionally causing damage under aggravating circumstances,” under articles 218 and 411 of the penal code. There is no sign of even the beginning of a serious investigation into others responsible.
Government and military officials initially denied reports by Human Rights Watch and local media that all were members of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard. At trial the defendants admitted being Bodyguard Headquarters members, but judges blocked questioning by lawyers for the victims about who ordered them to carry out the attacks.
Senior Cambodian military officers speaking confidentially have asserted that within government circles, it is widely believed that the prosecution of these three men alone aims to squelch suspicions of involvement of “the higher levels” of government in the attack.
“The trial’s limited scope means that evidence about possible involvement by high-ranking political and military figures is being ignored,” Adams said. “Donors should denounce a judicial farce that protects those who planned the October 26 attack and call for an independent, UN-assisted investigation that gets to the bottom of it. Otherwise, Cambodia’s downward slide into state-sponsored violence and one-party rule will accelerate.”