Three of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s former bodyguards were sentenced to four years in prison after being accused of participating in the beating of two opposition party members during a pro-Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) protest in front of the National Assembly last October. In spite of the court’s initial decision, the men will only serve a year in prison after having most of their sentences suspended.
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. According to the law, they were supposed to be imprisoned for four years.
However Judge Heng Sok Na announced on Friday morning that he decided to suspend three years of each man’s sentence and only force them to spend a year in prison. He did not comment further and gave no reason for the suspension.
Judge Sok Na also ordered the three accused to pay a 40 million riel (about $10,000) fine to Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea and another 6 million riel (about $1,500) each to the state.
Sam Sokong, a defense lawyer for Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea, told reporters outside the court that he would consider appealing the Municipal Court’s verdict because he believes the sentence is too light.
According to Mr. Sokong, his clients asked the court to harshly punish the three men, and were demanding a total of 300 million riel (about $75,000) in compensation from them.
The decision comes on the heels of a scathing 70-page report from Human Rights Watch, which found that “the criminal process in the case seems to have been designed to cover-up, rather than uncover and shed light on, ultimate responsibility for the October 26 attack.”
On October 25, Prime Minister Hun Sen angrily denounced protesters who demonstrated against him during a state-visit to Paris, saying he would organize his own retaliatory protest against the CNRP.
The very next day, demonstrators gathered at Mr. Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit (BHQ) bases in and around Phnom Penh preparing for a protest at the National Assembly against then-National Assembly Vice-President Kem Sokha.
Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea were leaving the National Assembly when they were dragged out of their cars and beaten by a mob, all while police in the area watched.
Mr. Sarith, Mr. Hoeun, and Mr. Vanny were arrested on November 2 after being identified in videos dragging the two lawmakers out of their cars.
According to HRW, visual evidence of the attack on the politicians shows 10 people physically harming the two men. As HRW documents, after the November 2 arrest of the three men, pro-government media, officials and the defendants coalesced around the narrative that the violence was unrelated to the earlier demonstration, and that the men had been drinking coffee nearby before deciding to join.
At the trial, the three defendants contended they did not act “as a team” and had attended the protest of their own “volition.” As the HRW report notes, attempts by the prosecution to delve into the defendants’ BHQ affiliations have been stymied by the court.
Trial judges have said such questions are “outside the scope of the trial.”
During a hearing last month, Mr. Sarith confessed to beating Mr. Saphea, albeit mildly, saying that at the time, he did not know the men were lawmakers. He also denied damaging any of their cars or being involved in the attack on Mr. Chamroeun.
Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophanna declined to comment on the judges’ decision.
“The court is proceeding with this case independently,” he said.