Three men who confessed to carrying out the brutal attack on two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly were charged at the Municipal Court yesterday with aggravated assault.
After questioning behind closed doors by a team of prosecutors, an arrest warrant was issued and the three men were remanded to Prey Sar prison to await trial. They face charges that carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison and a $4,000 fine.
The three men are Chay Sarith, 33, of Takhmao town in Kandal province, Mao Hoeurn, 34, from Prey Veng province and Soth Vanny, 45, also from Takhmao. A police source who asked to remain anonymous said the attackers – who had been part of a protest calling for the ouster of deputy Assembly president Kem Sokha before attacking the two lawmakers – were members of the military.
The attack took place on October 26 directly in front of the National Assembly following a parliamentary session. Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were dragged from their vehicles and savagely beaten by members of a pro-government rally, while police stood by without intervening. In the video, the attackers can be seen punching and kicking the two lawmakers, who have spent the last week at a Bangkok Hospital receiving treatment for their injuries.
International human rights groups including Human Rights Watch said that witnesses identified police and military among the crowd that attacked the two senators. These suspicions were confirmed by the anonymous police source, who said the attackers were soldiers in plainclothes.
Despite suspicions that the majority Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) played a role in the attack, Two CPP lawmakers were appointed to head the committee investigating the attacks. Prime Minister Hun Sen also called for the perpetrators’ arrest, saying, “Whoever is responsible for the incident – from whichever political party – must bear responsibility.”
It is unclear what role the investigation played in the confessions of the three men, but citizen sleuths on Facebook said they identified the attackers by dissecting video of the assault and matched the attackers to earlier photos of them.
The anonymous police source said a public investigation into videos of the attack on Facebook forced the three men to confess. “Everyone had identified him,” he said. “They had no choice but to confess.”
A team of prosecutors led by Meas Chan Pisith, led the day-long questioning of the alleged attackers at Municipal Court yesterday. The questioning was closed to the public. Ho Vann, a lawmaker from the CNRP, praised the courts for pressing charges against the men. “It’s appreciated and it’s a good step that these people have been arrested,” he said, “because people from any group must have responsibility before the law.”
The two lawmakers are in Bangkok now receiving treatment for their injuries, and were visited by opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday. They were more restrained than Mr. Vann in their praise of the arrests. Both lawmakers posted on their Facebook pages yesterday that there are more people involved in the plan to attack them than the three men arrested.
“The people who participated in this savage attempt to beat us to death are not limited to the three arrested yesterday,” said the Facebook post. The two also asked the government for authority to broaden the investigation into his attackers.
“There should be a much more thorough and in-depth investigation,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Asia Division, “…The arrest and charging of these three men should be the beginning of the process of ensuring accountability for these violent attacks, and not the end point.”
The two lawmakers attacked are now required to file a formal complaint to the court, following which the court will set a date for the trial.