By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH (AA) - The Cambodian government orchestrated and then covered up the full extent of a violent attack on two opposition members of Parliament last year, Human Rights Watch has claimed in a new report.
The report, which was released Thursday, comes a day before three members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit -- an elite force known for its brutality -- is scheduled to hear the verdict in its trial for last year’s beating of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Sophea.
On Oct. 26 -- a day after Hun Sen said a demonstration would take place to counter protests against him that had taken place in France -- an anti-opposition mob gathered outside the National Assembly, calling for the ouster of Kem Sokha, the CNRP deputy leader.
As Sophea and Chamroeun left the building, they were set upon by thugs who stayed behind after the rally dispersed, beating them bloody as police stood by. Both were hospitalized.
According to HRW, which now wants the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation, the attack bore “all the hallmarks of an operation carried out by Cambodian state security forces,” with the demonstration having been led by a civilian arm of the Bodyguard Unit.
The report said rally participants dressed in civilian clothes, had firstly gathered at the unit’s headquarters, and high-ranking members of the unit were seen dressed in civilian clothes.
It added that they were joined by villagers who were told they would be fed and paid for joining the unspecified protest.
In spite of video evidence posted across social media that showed dozens of men involved in the attacks, only three were arrested about a week later. The three—all personnel in the Bodyguard Unit—have claimed they only instigated the attacks after the lawmakers insulted them.
"Several senior Cambodian military officers speaking confidentially asserted that within government circles, it is widely believed that the trial and prosecution of [the three attackers] is intended to put to rest suspicions of involvement of 'the higher levels of government' in the attack," the report said.
HRW said the government’s failure to bring more of the perpetrators to heel is a sign that it wants to cover the case up.
“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 HRW Asia director Brad Adams in an accompanying statement.
“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.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday evening that the report was “just allegations,” and that HRW was trying to mislead the processes in motion at the court.
He also said the government “has no power to make recommendations to the court” and that HRW was “shameful” for “making noise to the media.”
“In the media, what I hear and what I see, Human Rights Watch doesn’t have anything. If they have evidence, fine, give it to the court and get a good lawyer to pursue that. Allegations don’t help, they just try to make Cambodians look bad… and inviting the UN? We are not Syria, and not like other Middle Eastern nations.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday night that there is plenty of evidence to not only convict the three men at trial, but to ensure that others are arrested too.
“We have enough evidence; there are video clips that circulated on social media and everybody knows that, the reality is there, so what I see on Facebook reflects the reality in the [HRW] report.”
He said there are plenty of grounds for the Ministry of Interior to investigate the attacks further.