Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Rights group calls for investigation into allegations of police abuse after viral photos

A screenshot of the suspects in shackles, which went viral on Facebook.
A screenshot of the suspects in shackles, which went viral on Facebook.

Rights group Licadho called on the government to investigate allegations that police officials in Kampong Cham province abused a suspect during questioning, after photos of the suspect in shackles went viral on social media.

Police in Stung Trang district arrested Rin Sopheap and Sorn Kuoch on Monday on allegations they had attacked the woman who hired them to build a house following an argument and placed them in pretrial detention, said district police chief Pak Cheat.

“They have committed the intentional use of violence,” he said.

Pictures circulated on social media of the suspects each with one foot immobilized in an old-fashioned iron-and-wood shackle. The images quickly went viral with Facebook users comparing it to the devices used by the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng detention center, and accusing the police of torture.

“In this era there are still leg shackles left over from the Pol Pot regime. It looks very cruel,” wrote a user named Yarn Yarn. 

“At the commune police station, they don’t have material to detain them, so they have just used it [the leg shackles] at the moment,” Cheat explained, adding that the men weren’t in the shackle for more than 30 minutes.

Asked about the public accusations that the shackles were like something from S-21, he responded: “Whatever they want to say. I am making a statement for an explanation.”  

Kampong Cham Provincial Police Commissariat issued a letter calling on the public not to pass along misleading information.

“The [leg] shackling of two suspects is correctly implementing the law of judicial police,” notes the letter.

“Based on witness statements, two suspects have committed violence, beaten up the victim and caused injury,” it said.

Heng Vuthy, deputy provincial police chief, appealed to journalists and Facebook users not to post fake news.

“What the police have done is following the law and regulation, police have also known the rules, not only journalists,” he said. “It was a red-hand crime, which required police to protect security with no need to wait for a court warrant.”  

Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said that even if the suspects had been caught red handed, there was no need to shackle them with such a device.

“Police have many means to temporarily detain but this shackle, they are not allowed no longer to use it because of form of shackling alike torture,” Sam Ath said.

“We saw the picture has demonstrated it is a torture, relevant authorities have to investigate on that case,” Sam Ath. “The authorities have to take legal action if they have found out it is true.”

National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun, could not be reached for comment, while Interior Ministry’s spokesman Khieu Sopheak, declined to comment, saying he wasn’t familiar with the case.