Former Guards of PM Tried for Attack on Opposition

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Former military officer Soth Vanny, 45 arrives at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for his trial yesterday. KT/ Mai Vireak

Three of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s former bodyguards were tried by the Municipal Court yesterday over allegations they viciously beat two members of the opposition during protests led by supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party outside the National Assembly last October.

Opposition members Kong Saphea and Nhay Chamroeun did not attend the trial, but  were represented by their three defense lawyers. A video of the attack aired before the proceedings, showing Mr. Saphea and Mr. Chamroeun being  beaten amidst a crowd of protesters on October 26.

The suspects were all former military officers before being assigned to Mr. Hun Sen’s private security detail, Judge Heng Sokna said.

Chay Sarith, 33, Mao Hoeun, 34, and Soth Vanny, 45, were charged with committing “intentional acts of violence under aggravating circumstances and intentionally causing damage under aggravating circumstances” under articles 218 and 411 of the Penal Code.

At the time of the attack, Mr. Saphea and Mr. Chamroeun, representing Svay Rieng and Kampong Cham provinces respectively, were attempting to leave the National Assembly by car while about 100 protesters stood outside. Their vehicles were stopped by the three former bodyguards, who proceeded to beat them unconscious, Judge Sokna said, reading a court document.

“They stopped the two CNRP members’ cars, opened the doors and attacked them inside the cars,” the judge said.

“After beating the two victims, they caught them and pulled them from their cars and kicked them until they both went unconscious outside the National Assembly.”

Judge Sokna added that the three former bodyguards of Prime Minister Hun Sen then proceeded to seriously damage the men’s cars before fleeing.

Mr. Sarith, Mr. Hoeun and Mr. Vanny were arrested on November 3 after surrendering to the Ministry of Interior at the behest of the premier.
Yesterday Mr. Sarith confessed to beating Mr. Saphea, albeit mildly, but said at the time he did not know the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) official was a lawmaker. He also denied damaging any cars or being involved in Mr. Chamroeun’s beating.

“I would like to confess that I beat only Mr. Kong Saphea, but on the day, I did not know that he was a lawmaker. If I had known he was a lawmaker, I would not have beat him,” Mr. Sarith told the court.

“I merely punched one time on his face and pulled him from his car, and I kicked his body one time. But I did not beat his car,” he added, claiming that he had acted in retaliation to Mr. Saphea, whom he alleged said he was Vietnamese.

Mr. Sarith went on to say that he had traveled from Takhmao Town in Kandal province to see the protest, which were in opposition to acting CNRP president Kem Sokha’s place as the National Assembly’s vice-president.

Mr. Sokha was removed from that position a week later when a majority CPP session of the assembly was boycotted by all CNRP members.  
Mr. Sarith said he arrived in front of the National Assembly at about 7:20 am and left at about one in the afternoon.

At about 12:30 pm, after most of the more than 1,000 CPP protesters had departed, Mr. Sarith claimed the back window of a car driving slowly from the National Assembly opened in front of a remaining group of protesters, and a passenger inside shouted: “You were the puppets of the [Vietnamese]. Why did all of you come to protest here?”

He added that he was so angry that he stopped and entered the car and beat the man inside along with other protesters.

Sam Sokong, a defense lawyer of  the two victims, said the court would be unable to find true justice for his two clients because many people participated in the beatings, but only three suspects were standing trial.

He added that among those at large were the attack’s masterminds.

“To find truth and justice for the two victims, I would like to request the court arrest other related suspects, especially those who were behind this case, and bring them to court,” Mr. Sokong said.

Deputy Prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court Sin Vireak responded by saying that the investigation into the attack was ongoing.
The trial will continue on the morning of May 10.

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