by Hum Chamroeun and Hang Savyuth / Radio Free Asia
An activist who campaigned for Cambodia’s opposition party was found dead over the weekend as a result of what police said was an accident, but a local human rights group on Monday refuted the claim, suggesting he had been murdered for political reasons.
Bun Borin, 45, was found dead after attending a party Saturday in Cambodia’s northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, where he had actively campaigned for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in recent elections.
A police report filed after the initial investigation said the activist had been drinking at the event and died in an accident that night—a claim echoed by Poipet commune police chief Oum Sophal on Monday.
“My investigation found that he died in a fall,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Police have arrested a suspect named Prack Savorn who is said to have been involved in an argument at the party and sent him to court for questioning related to the case.
Sum Chan Kea, provincial coordinator for the domestic rights group Adhoc, said Monday he had found “suspicious evidence” and “conflicting accounts” in the police report, suggesting Bun Borin’s death was no accident.
“This case can be considered a politically motivated case, because at the party, the victim was involved in an argument until he was grabbed by the collar,” he told RFA.
“There was a political argument because there were others there from another political party.”
Sum Chan Kea said Adhoc is pursuing a further investigation into Bun Borin’s death and whether it was a politically motivated murder.
Bun Borin’s wife Mao Rachana told RFA that her husband had not been involved in any disputes and called on authorities to investigate the possibility of foul play.
“I saw a red mark on his neck—it appeared as if he had been strangled,” she said.
“Both his hands and forehead had black and blue marks. It seemed he was beaten.”
A funeral service for Bun Borin began on Sunday and will last several days.
In May last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept elections for Cambodia’s provincial, municipal, and district councils, winning 2,543 seats to the CNRP’s 769, but the CNRP picked up 185 more seats than the opposition’s haul in the last local elections in 2009.
The CNRP’s gains in the local elections came on the heels of strides it made in general elections in July 2013, in which the CPP suffered its worst performance since 1998.
The National Election Committee, which oversees the country’s polls, had declared that the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claimed it had won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly for 10 months until the two sides agreed to pursue electoral reforms in July 2014.
Bun Borin’s death over the weekend followed a death threat against another CNRP activist last week in northwestern Siem Reap province.
Khhas commune police chief Sout Nikom told RFA that on Feb. 5, authorities had discovered a Chinese-made hand grenade wrapped in black duct tape and tied to 63-year-old CNRP activist Kuy Saroeun’s boat in such a way that it would explode if moved.
“In this area, we don’t have any UXO (unexploded ordnance). Someone must have set this up,” he said, adding that the perpetrator had intended to murder Kuy Saroeun.
“I don’t what happened, but according to our investigation [Kuy Saroeun] didn’t have any ongoing disputes.”
Kuy Saroeun, a commune activist who had recently switched party affiliation from the CPP to the CNRP, said the threat “might be politically motivated” after his defection, but offered no suggestions of who might be behind it.
Culture of impunity
Rights groups have long highlighted a culture of impunity in Cambodia, saying a number of killings, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators not brought to justice.
Chea Vichea, an outspoken critic of Hun Sen’s government and the former president of Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU)—one of the biggest unions in the country—was shot dead on Jan. 22, 2004 by an unknown assailant while he was reading a newspaper at a stand in the capital.
In September 2013, the Supreme Court released two men seen by rights groups as “scapegoats” for the crime after they had spent nearly five years in jail.
Reported by Hum Chamroeun and Hang Savyuth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.