PHNOM PENH - Three Cambodian men who say they were involved in attacks on opposition lawmakers last week have been formally charged by a court in Phnom Penh.
The suspects, Chay Sarith, Mao Hoeurn and Suth Vanny, turned themselves in to police Tuesday afternoon, claiming to be the assailants of lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea.
Last week’s attacks, which followed anti-opposition protests endorsed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), took place outside parliament and in view of police, who did not intervene.
Officials from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) say they believe there were more than three attackers.
Meas Chan Piseth, deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told VOA that he charged the three men for “intentionally causing violence and destruction of property.” The suspects, who could face up to seven years in prison, are being detained while the investigating judge reviews the case.
Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponrith cautiously praised the charges, but he said the number of assailants was more than three.
“We, the CNRP, welcome the confessions from those who turned themselves in, and the work of the authorities. But according to the images and video clips on Facebook, we see more than three perpetrators. We hope the authorities continue to work on this,” he said.
Confessions ‘a little bit strange’
Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator for the rights group Licadho, told VOA Khmer the confessions were “a little bit strange,” coming as they did just a few hours after complaints by the special appointed investigative committee that it was having difficulty apprehending the suspects.
“Actually, the fact that the suspects turning themselves in is a way to cut down on criticism and pressure on the government and ruling party. But we, national and international NGOs, will still continue to closely observe the situation," he said.
Speaking from a hospital in Bangkok where they are being treated for their injuries, the two lawmakers said they want to see authorities arrest those who ordered the attacks on them.
“We see that the authority couldn’t arrest them but the perpetrators turned themselves in instead. It is strange. However, we want to know who was behind the beatings, and who are the masterminds,” said Nhay Chamroeun.
Kong Saphea said the authorities need to make more arrests and make sure the perpetrators are properly punished.
“The masterminds behind those suspects must be punished even more severely than the suspects themselves, because they were the ones who ordered the suspects to commit such heinous acts upon lawmakers with privilege,” he said.
Defense lawyer Choung Choungy said the suspects should be charged with more serious crimes, including attempted murder, for the ferocity of the attacks.
Meanwhile, an opposition senator who has been jailed since August has lost an appeal to be released on bail.
Senator Hong Sok Hour is accused of the online posting of fake documents related to the Vietnamese border.
Rights groups say he should be released on bail, since he is in poor health and has put forward bail money and his passport.
The Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a lower court, which said that to release the senator would lead to “social chaos.” The Appeals judge did not provide more specifics following Wednesday's hearing.
“I think it is unfair,” said defense attorney Choung Choungy, who added the matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Hean Socheata contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Khmer Service.