Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Family of Violently Beaten Government Critic Seeks Justice

Ny Nak, social activist, was attacked by a group of unknown assailants and is recovering at a clinic in Phnom Penh on September 14, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Ny Nak, social activist, was attacked by a group of unknown assailants and is recovering at a clinic in Phnom Penh on September 14, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Phnom Penh police say they are investigating a brutal assault against a vocal critic of government policies, as civil society groups say the incident is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on critical voices. 

Baton-wielding assailants attacked Ny Nak on Tuesday afternoon as he and his wife Sok Sreynet were driving their motorbike along street 369 from their organic fertilizer warehouse in Chbar Ampov district’s Prek Pra commune on Tuesday, Sreynet said.

Around 1:10 p.m., a group of three or four men in black uniforms and helmets rode their motorbike into Nak’s motorbike and began beating him with a baton until he was “bleeding from his head,” his wife says. 

“It was a case of attempted murder, it is not a coincidence,” she said. “My husband and I have never had any argument with anyone.”

The style of assault echoed a series of attacks against opposition Candlelight Party activists documented by Human Rights Watch in the months leading up to July elections earlier this year.

Nak was released from prison in June last year after being incarcerated for 18 months on charges of incitement after making a satirical post criticizing then-Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Nak remains bruised and bed-ridden in a private hospital and his wife said she filed a complaint to authorities on Thursday.

“Commune police told me that they have seen camera security, there are eight people [suspects] with four motorbikes, and they will follow the procedure of the investigation,” Sreynet said. “I hope they can arrest suspects and provide justice to my husband.” 

Chbar Ampov District Police Chief Mao Soeut and Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chuon Narin both said police are working on the case. 

“We are not leaving the case, we are continuing to arrest perpetrators. Please take a look at the situation, currently there are a lot of gangsters taking their motorbikes to beat [others]. Let the police investigate,”  said Narin, before hanging up the phone. 

Nak, a fertilizer producer and fruit tree seller, has frequently criticized the Agriculture Ministry on his Facebook page IMan-KH, which has 413,000 followers. His wife denied he had any political ties.

On Monday, Nak wrote on his Facebook: “Agriculture is my breath…I am not silent about agriculture officials who have just work to get a salary. Ny Nak will always be in competition with agriculture officials.”

In the hours before he was assaulted on Tuesday, Nak made a Facebook post directly criticizing the current Agriculture Minister.

“As the minister has more than 60 secretaries of state and uses drones for surveillance, but can not find a secretary to make official documents and notes are handwritten like this, who knows who wrote it? Which factory miller? Which company? They do not have, so they only write on Facebook,” Nak posted

“We were saddened by the news, to be honest, when we heard it we were shocked by the attack,” Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Im Rachna told CamboJA. “As you may know, the Cambodian government highly respects the freedom of expression and we believe it is the core value of democracy. We wish him well.”

“I do not comment on speculation,” Rachna said, when asked if there was any connection between Nak’s critical comments on the minister and the assault. The current Agriculture Minister could not be reached for comment.

Government spokesperson Pen Bona also denied that the assault was a signal of broader repression against free speech.

But Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said that the assault appeared to be tied to Nak’s critical public statements.

“We can say it came from expression of opinion,” Senkaruna said. “The beating is a crack down on spirits who dare to exercise their opinion to criticize the government’s institutions.”

Additional reporting by Jack Brook.

Update: This article has been updated on September 18 at 6:47 p.m. ICT to note that associate editor Jack Brook contributed reporting to this news article by calling Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Im Rachna for comment and attempting to reach the current Agriculture Minister by phone and text message. The article has also been updated to correct the spelling of Adhoc senior investigator’s name, which is Soeng Senkaruna according to CamboJA’s transliteration of his Khmer name.

Update: This article has been updated on September 19 at 3:43 p.m. to remove the name of the current Agriculture Minister after the Agriculture Ministry published a letter on its Facebook page on September 18 urging CamboJA to promptly remove the minister’s name from the article. The ministry’s letter states that “such malicious intentions and defamatory speculations” in the future “would result in legal actions that could lead to the same outcome of the then VOD,” referring to the media outlet Voice of Democracy, which was shut down on order of then-Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.