Philip Ruddock, who served as Australia’s immigration minister between 1996 and 2003 and now serves as the government’s chief parliamentary whip, has described Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government as a “one-party state,” and said that Australia is concerned about the shooting deaths of five strike protesters in January.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday charged six men with assault and destruction of property for their role in clashes Sunday night between security forces, protesters and angry commuters, which resulted in a 29-year-old construction worker being shot dead.
Sanh Samoeun, 28; Nguyen Thi Dek, 20; Ek Chan Nu, 17; Tang Chongseang, 18; Song Nisai, 20; and Var Noeun, 20, were arrested by police about 9 p.m. Sunday, when a day of demonstrations led by the opposition CNRP turned violent in the area of Monivong Bridge.
“The court has charged them and sent them to prison for pre-trial detention,” Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Suos Sam Ath said Tuesday, declining to comment further.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, which is providing legal counsel for the suspects, said the men had been charged with intentional violence and destruction of property under articles 218, 410, and 411 of the Criminal Code.
Together, the charges carry prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines as high as 20 million riel, or about $5,000.
“They [the suspects] told the court that they were not involved in the incident. They [merely] tried to cross the bridge,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
According to witnesses, much of the violence that occurred Sunday night resulted when commuters who were unable to get home attempted to move razor-wire barricades, eliciting a heavy-handed response from roughly 1,000 military police and riot police armed with guns, rubber bullets, tear gas and smoke grenades.
While television stations barely covered these events, or the CNRP-led mass protests earlier that day, footage of Tuesday’s court hearing was widely broadcast on local channels.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, who was present at the time the six men were arrested, said he could not be sure whether or not they had been directly involved in the conflict.
However, the authorities should be more concerned with investigating the death of Mao Sok Chan, who was killed instantly when he was shot in the head by police, Mr. Soveth said.
“Remember Kratie?” he said, referring to the case in May last year when armed government forces shot dead a 14-year-old girl in Kratie province’s Broma village, ostensibly to put down a rural uprising.
“This is the culture of the armed forces,” he said.
Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito confirmed Tuesday that an investigation into the shooting was under way, but declined to provide further details.
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