Police Deny Ignoring Death of Opposition Activist

3 min read
Tith Rorn. Image: Supplied

Kampong Cham province police have denied ignoring the death in custody of Tith Rorn, a former election observer and son of a local opposition party official, whose battered body was returned to his family three days after his arrest in April.

Tith Rorn’s corpse was returned to his family in Stung Trang district on April 18 with bruises on his back, shoulders and sides, a cut on his forehead and a broken neck after being arrested on April 15 over a decade-old drunken incident. Police said he was an alcoholic and fell and hit his head after suffering withdrawals.

The 37-year-old worked as an observer for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) at the 2017 commune elections and his father sat on the party’s executive committee for Stung Trang’s Toul Preah Khlaing commune.

Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, the “acting” president of the CNRP, brought the case to light on his Facebook page in April and claimed the man’s death was a political killing. On May 18, the U.S. issued a statement saying it too had concerns about the circumstances of the death and called for an independent investigation.

Kampong Cham deputy provincial police chief Heng Vuthy said Tuesday that the local authorities were taking the case seriously and had completed their own investigation of the circumstances of the death of Tith Rorn.

A report was due to be sent to the Interior Ministry on Wednesday, he said.

“Actually, we have taken actions since before and we did not just start after they complained,” Vuthy said. “We have been doing it already and … now we have done it thoroughly by collecting all the evidence to show the Ministry of Interior.”

“The results will come out,” he added.

On April 30, the provincial police chief Em Kosal issued a statement saying that Tith Rorn had died from falling down and hitting his head while in custody. The report also said that the police did not use violence or torture against him.

However, the man’s family have cast doubts over the official account.

Tith Chan, his younger brother, said that the idea of his brother falling over and dying without any intervention from police did not seem to fit with his extensive injuries.

He said independent experts should be called in to analyze the cause of death.

“How could he die by falling down? Falling over does not cause death. People fall over while driving and they do not die; they just break their hands or legs. This was just in the bathroom, and it somehow led to his death,” Chan said.

“What about the bruises on his hands and legs? How did that result from falling down?” he added, explaining that his brother was in good health. “My brother went fishing every day but just two or three days after being arrested he died.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator and monitor with local rights group Licadho, said the manner in which authorities approach the case would be instructive as to the government’s present state of mind about rights abuses in Cambodia.

“If we cannot show any developments in this case, it will be considered that human rights violations are still going on,” he said. “That gives no benefit to Cambodia.”

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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