(Bangkok) – Men with metal batons viciously attacked a dissident and his wife in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on September 12, 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. Ny Nak remains hospitalized with serious wounds to his head and extremities.
The attack shares similarities with assaults reported earlier in 2023 against members of the opposition Candlelight Party, which were never seriously investigated. It tests the new government of Prime Minister Hun Manet’s willingness to investigate and appropriately prosecute those responsible for abuses against its critics.
“The attack against Ny Nak and his wife in broad daylight raises grave concerns that the Hun Sen government’s brutality against critical voices remains unchanged under his son’s rule,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Hun Manet has an opportunity to demonstrate that such lawlessness will be fully investigated and prosecuted regardless of who is responsible.”
Ny Nak and his wife, Sok Synet, said that they left together by motorbike from their fertilizer warehouse in Chbar Ampov district, Phnom Penh. At about 1 p.m., an unidentified object struck their motorbike on Street 369, causing them to crash. As Nak picked himself up to assist his wife, he saw four men in black clothes and black helmets approach. The men pulled metal rods from their pockets and pressed a button on the rod that extended them into batons. Opposition Candlelight Party members who were attacked in Phnom Penh in March and April described the assailants carrying similar batons.
The attackers grabbed Nak, removed his motorcycle helmet, and began to beat him on his head and upper body. Nak then broke free and ran into a nearby recycling warehouse, but the men caught him and continued to beat him with the batons until he fell to the ground.
Nak told Human Rights Watch: “They beat me on my head and hands until I was bleeding all over. Eventually I had to drop my hands from protecting my head because the pain to my hands was so severe. I just gave up and let them beat me, I was so out of breath and exhausted and in pain that I could barely breathe.”
He said they beat him “for what felt like over two minutes straight” while he was on the ground. “I believe they only left because I stopped moving altogether. I think they thought that I was dead. I was thinking at the time that they intended to kill me by how brutally they were beating me.”
The men hit Sok Synet twice with a metal baton on her right shoulder at the start of the attack when she tried to intervene.
The couple filed a police report at the local Prek Prak commune police station The local police viewed security camera footage from a nearby warehouse and told them that eight men on four motorbikes were involved in the attack. The police told Nak that they would investigate the case and that they could bring a possible charge of attempted murder.
Nak said he believes the attack was triggered by a number of recent public criticisms he made about the government.
Nak, 44, is known for his criticism of the previous Hun Sen government. He served 18 months in prison on charges of incitement for a public post allegedly mocking a speech made by Hun Sen. He was released in June 2023 after he completed his sentence. From his hospital bed, Nak said that the authorities should find and hold those responsible for the attack to account: “I believe the men who beat me were trying to kill me for being critical of the government.”
During the week prior to the assault, Nak repeatedly criticized the Agriculture Ministry for seeking photo opportunities to post on social media, but never taking any action to better people’s lives. Nak’s Facebook page, IMan-KH, currently has 414,000 followers.
Nak said that on the evening of September 10, members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party approached him to join their party and told him to not be so publicly critical of the government. Nak said he declined, responding that he was not a politician and did not want to join them. He subsequently publicly posted on Facebook asking for the party members to stop reaching out to him.
On September 1, Nak criticized the public claim by Labor Minister Heng Sour that 99.3 percent of Cambodians were employed, and pointed out what he saw as failures by the ministry to resolve disputes related to the Labor Rights Supported Union strike and factory closures.
“The attack on Ny Nak shows that foreign governments should not delay their scrutiny of human rights developments in Cambodia,” Robertson said. “Concerned governments should publicly demand answers from Prime Minister Hun Manet about his willingness to stop abuses and hold those responsible to account.”