Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Candlelight Party Activist Alleges Suspicious Traffic Accident Was Murder Attempt

Thy Sokha streams live on her Facebook after a Phnom Penh traffic accident she alleges was an attempt on her life in April 21, 2023. (Pey Pey Ly’s Facebook)
Thy Sokha streams live on her Facebook after a Phnom Penh traffic accident she alleges was an attempt on her life in April 21, 2023. (Pey Pey Ly’s Facebook)

Opposition Candlelight Party activist Thy Sokha alleges the vehicle which slammed into her car in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district on Friday evening was an attempt to kill her disguised as a traffic accident.

“I believe that it is entirely politically motivated,” said Sokha, whose livestreams and videos of Candlelight events on her Facebook page “Pey Pey Ly” have received hundreds of thousands of views. “It was a murder attempt.”

The black SUV which hit Sokha’s car at 8:30 p.m. had fake plates and the people in that vehicle immediately abandoned their car and fled the scene, Sokha, police and witnesses told CamboJA. Sokha livestreamed the scene to her thousands of Facebook followers immediately following the crash, including interviewing multiple witnesses who recalled the SUV had waited for her car to turn onto the main road.

Sokha filed a complaint to police the next day and has called for an investigation.

“If it was a normal traffic accident, the responsible people should show up to resolve the problem,” Thy Sokha told CamboJA on Tuesday. “A few days have passed but I haven’t seen the people who caused the accident.”

Police deny there was any wrongdoing. But some of the people living and working at the site of the crash in Rolous commune agreed with Sokha’s suspicions. The car crash occurred as Human Rights Watch reports more than half a dozen physical assaults against Cambodian opposition party activists this year and Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to use violence against opponents. In 2018, leaked audio allegedly from a government official called for “traffic accidents” against opposition activists.

Sam Oeun, a man living near the site of the crash, said there had been “cars and motorbikes waiting to take people away” following the accident. Normally, he said, people would talk together to settle an accident.

“It is not a traffic accident,” Sam Oeun said. “If they do not have ill-intention, they will not run away because it was just a damaged car.” 

The black SUV which struck Sokha’s car on the passenger side, where she sat as her husband drove them home from a motorbike sale nearby, had reportedly waited for her to approach the main road before accelerating, four separate people in the area told CamboJA. Many neighborhood residents were scared to talk with CamboJA for fear of facing consequences.

Another resident, who only gave the name Chin, runs a grocery shop across the street from the crash site and recalled hearing a loud sound. He ran out to see the black SUV stopped in the road while the driver fled into a smaller white car nearby.

“A white car drove away, and the other car owner [Sokha] shouted that they were running away,” he said.  “I just saw a person get in another car and drive away,” he said, echoing eyewitness testimony in Sokha’s livestream moments after the incident.

The dirt road connecting to street 104 where Thy Sokha’s traffic accident occurred and the LMK electric company’s surveillance camera above the road, seen here on April 25, 2023. (CamboJA/Khuon Narim)

Most surveillance cameras in the area were directed at storefront and home entrances. But one camera from LMK Co.,Ltd electrical company was pointed directly at the intersection where the accident occurred. The company’s employees declined to share the footage with CamboJA.

Dangkor district police chief Choem Sitha said that police had reviewed footage in the area and said the crash was a traffic accident. Sokha’s car was t-boned while trying to turn onto the main road, Sitha said. 

“It was not [attempted murder], our police officer in charge of that case said it is a traffic accident,” Sitha said, noting he was preparing paperwork to send the case to the Phnom Penh Municipal police.

Acting Candlelight secretary general Kong Monika said that the party had already notified police and would wait for authorities to investigate the case, but noted other Candlelight activists had faced physical attacks.

“We have not yet made a conclusion [on Sokha’s case], let competent authorities work on this issue,” Monika said. “We are very concerned as to what the victim claimed, it is an image of intimidation and persecution against a person who has different political tendencies [than the ruling CPP].”

Sokha said she went with police to the district station and said that police had told her the SUV’s license plate was “fake” and did not match the vehicle’s registration number so there were no suspects. 

District police chief Sitha confirmed the license plate was fake and declined to comment further.

Sokha added the SUV itself was conspicuously empty of contents or any documentation.

“Inside it had nothing, only a screw and some pieces of wooden chips,” she said. 

Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator for human rights NGO Adhoc, reviewed Sokha’s livestream and urged authorities to investigate and find culprits for punishment to alleviate concerns that the accident may have been politically motivated.

“If authorities cannot find people who have committed an offense, that issue will meet with accusations of political persecution because that issue [accident] has a lot of irregularities,” he said. 

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan could not be reached for comment.

Sokha told CamboJA she remained shocked at what she believed was a targeted attack based on her political beliefs. 

“I have criticized the government for constructive criticism,” she said. “But I have never insulted [anyone].”