By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – Three members of the Cambodian prime minister’s notorious Bodyguard Unit will walk free from prison in just five months’ time, despite beating two opposition lawmakers so badly last year that they needed to be hospitalized.
It also emerged Friday that Kem Sokha, the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) deputy leader, is facing a charge over his refusal to appear for questioning in relation to an extra-marital affair.
The Phnom Penh Post reported that the verdict against the trio was announced at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday.
The judge handed each a four-year prison sentence, but suspended three of these.
Because of time already served, the men -- who have together been ordered to pay $9,800 to each victim -- are set to be released at the end of October.
On Oct. 6, Kong Sophea and Nhay Chamroeun were set upon by around 20 thugs as they made their way out of the National Assembly, where an anti-CNRP rally had called for the ouster of Sokha.
Despite overwhelming video evidence of the attacks, only three people were arrested a few days later.
They admitted to being members of the unit -- an elite force that has been implicated in a deadly 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally -- but denied having been ordered to carry out the beatings.
The conviction Friday was met with outrage from the CNRP’s spokesman Yim Sovann, who told Anadolu Agency that neither the victims, nor the party, were happy with the verdict.
“For the party, it is not justice at all,” he said. “We have the video clips that show more than 20 people involved in the attack and it was very serious.
“Compare it to the other sentences toward CNRP activists who got more than 20 years with no concrete evidence to be sentenced. Is it justice? No. It’s not acceptable.”
Sovann was referring to the imprisonment last year of 11 opposition activists.
Three were jailed for 20 years “for leading an insurrection”, while the other eight were jailed for seven years for joining that supposed insurrection at a protest in Phnom Penh the year before.
Sovann also confirmed that the party’s deputy leader, Kem Sokha, has been charged under Article 583 of the Criminal Code with refusal to appear before the court for questioning in a case brought against him because he had an affair.
According to that article, his refusal to appear can render a prison term of between one and six months and a fine of up to $245.
The charge comes after police failed Thursday to arrest Sokha after surrounding his car and forcing their way into his party’s headquarters. He was inside neither.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Anadolu Agency that the sentences reflect an attempt to steer attention away from the case once and for all.
“There's no escaping the conclusion that these three are the scapegoats designated to take the fall, and that the investigation is being truncated at their level so that none of their superiors are implicated,” he said.
He added that the fines would do little to cover the hospitalization costs borne by the two victims.
“To put these light sentences in perspective, it's worth considering the much longer sentences given by courts to opposition political activists for peaceful protests and other activities,” he underlined.