Worker Beaten on Veng Sreng in January Dies of Head Injuries

A man who was beaten by military police during the lethal suppression of a nationwide strike of garment workers in January died of his head injuries on Saturday, his family said Sunday.

Muon Sokmean, 29, was demanding a $160 minimum wage with colleagues from the Canadia Industrial Park on Veng Sreng Street in Phnom Penh when military police armed with AK-47 assault rifles crushed the protest, killing at least five people and injuring more than 40.

Pok Hiem, the wife of Muon Sokmean, who died Saturday morning, holds a brain scan taken in January after her husband was injured during clashes with military police on Veng Sreng Street. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
Pok Hiem, the wife of Muon Sokmean, who died Saturday morning, holds a brain scan taken in January after her husband was injured during clashes with military police on Veng Sreng Street. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

The death of Muon Sokmean from injuries sustained on January 3 would bring the total killed to six. However, an autopsy was not performed before his wife Pok Heam cremated his body on Saturday.

Ms. Heam said Sunday that her husband had awoken at 3 a.m. Saturday, yelling in pain in their small Pur Senchey district room.

“I asked him why he shouted so loud, and he shouted and shouted and then we saw his eyes roll back into his head,” she said, clasping her three-year-old son.

Ms. Heam said she rushed her husband to a clinic but that he died on the way. She said she is certain his injuries from the strikes—a damaged eye and a brain contusion—caused his death.

“I want to file a complaint, but since we are poor how can we win over them?” Ms. Heam asked. “I am very angry with authorities but we cannot do anything.”

Ms. Heam cremated her husband’s body Saturday afternoon in a ceremony attended by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who also blamed authorities for Muon Sokmean’s death.

“We will push to find the justice for the victims and find the perpetrators,” Mr. Rainsy said at the ceremony at a Dang Kao district pagoda.

A January 6 doctor’s report from the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital says an initial C.T. scan of Muon Sokmean’s brain showed he had no fractures to his cranium.

The report also says his ventricular system was working normally and that he suffered a small frontal contusion.

Dr. Jean-Claude Garen of Naga Clinic in Phnom Penh, who did not work on Mr. Sokmean’s case, said it is unusual but not impossible for such trauma to cause death months down the road.

“If the patient is suffering symptoms, like vomiting and headaches, they require a second C.T. scan even if it’s more than a month later,” said Mr. Garen, noting internal bleeding can lead to death if the blood is not drained to relieve pressure.

Ms. Heam said Sunday that her husband often got dizzy and had headaches, adding that after an initial 20-day stay in hospital, they could no longer afford any more visits—or a second C.T. scan.

Brigadier General Keng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, said proof was needed before accusing authorities of Muon Sokmean’s death.

“We need to do an investigation [into] who hit him,” said Brig. Gen. Tito. “We cannot accept [Ms. Heam’s] accusation.”

Ms. Heam, meanwhile, has been left to care for her three-year-old son alone.

“When my husband was alive, he could look after the child and I went to work but now who will look after him?” she asked.

“I do not have people to rely on.”

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