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CAMBODIA: Police allegedly extort bribes in arrest in Rattanakiri province

July 9, 2008


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-151-2008

10 July 2008
CAMBODIA: Police allegedly extort bribes in arrest in Rattanakiri province

ISSUES: Torture; arbitrary arrest; ill-treatment; right to land

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that the police allegedly ordered parents to pay a bribe of 150000 riels (US$37.5) each if their sons were not to be arrested after these youths had damaged a party sign in Soeung commune, Bor Keo district, Rattankiri province. On 2 July 2008, they arrested a youth named Sev Tha, 17, and sent him to the provincial prison when his father could not afford that bribe.

CASE DETAILS: (Sources: Pen Bonnar, ADHOC human rights NGO, Rattanakiri province; Man Thang, chief of Soeung commune, Bor Keo district, Rattanakiri province)

In the night of 1 July nine youths had a binge drinking before returning home. On the way, in the dark, they bumped into the sign of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party that was leaning over the roadside. They then got angry and, under the influence of alcohol, pulled the sign up and threw it away.

In the morning the commune police set out to arrest all of those nine youths on the charges of damage to property with intent and the police officer named Sok forced their parents to pay a bribe of 150000 riels (US$37.5) each if their sons were not to be arrested. They had then arrested Sev Tha and his younger brother Sev La. Their father could afford to pay only 100000 riels and secure the release of Sev La, while the police sent Sev Tha to the provincial prison for pre-trial detention. Another father also had to pay a full bribe 150000 riels to get the police to end their pursuit against his son named Khon Hean.

The other youth have gone into hiding. They are: (1)Sor Thav, (2)Tiv Veng, (3)Chom Tun, (4)Chom Chob, (5) Sev Na and (6) an unnamed youth.  But Police Officer Sok have ordered the Soeung commune chief named Man Khon to collect the same bribes from their parents if these youths are to avoid any arrest.


An election campaign has been going on in Cambodia since 26 June 2006 until 27 July, the polling day. Party signs are very important to all competing parties. At times, non ruling parties’ signs have been pulled down or defaced without the perpetrators being arrested. It is the first time a sign of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been damaged. Villagers in Soeung commune are known as supporters of the ruling party.


Under the Cambodian criminal law (UNTAC law, art.52), damage to property with intent is punishable by imprisonment between one and three years. If the damage is minor or the property is of little value, the imprisonment is reduced to between two months and one year.
The nine youths were under the influence of alcohol when they damaged that party sign. The grounds on which they were charged with damage to property with intent were very dubious. It would be more appropriate that they should face simply civil liability for the damage and be ordered to repair it. 

However, if at all they faced criminal liability, the imprisonment of the arrested youth Sev Tha contravened the criminal law and the code of criminal procedure. The damaged party sign was about 0.5m x 2.5m and altogether with the supporting posts cost nor more than between US$20 and 30. It is therefore of little value, and the custodial sentence for the damage is between two months and one year. Under article 204 of the Cambodian code of criminal procedure, there cannot be any pre-trial detention for a criminal offence which carries a custodial sentence of one year or less.

Judging from police Officer Sok’s order to pay bribes, the release of Sev La after the payment of the bribe, the end of the pursuit against Khon Hean also after such a payment, it is very likely that the police in Bor Keo district had used the arrest and imprisonment to extort bribes from the parents of those youths.


Please write your letters to the authorities listed below to request them to immediately release Sev Tha, investigate the alledged extortion of bribes by the Bor Keo district police and take action against any officer involved in this extortion. The AHRC has already written separate letters to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on Question of Torture of the UN.

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Sample letter:

Dear _____,

CAMBODIA: Police allegedly extort bribes in arrest in Rattanakiri province

Names of victims:
1. Sev Tha
2. Sev La
3. Khon Hean
4. Sor Thav
5. Tiv Veng
6. Chom Tun
7. Chom Chob
8. Sev Na
9. an unnamed youth
All living in Soeung commune, Borkeo district, Rattanakiri province.
Name of the alleged perpetrator: Mr. Sok, Police officer, Bor Keo district police, Rattanakiri province
Date of incident: 2 July 2008
Place of incident: Borkeo district, Rattanakiri province

I am writing to express my concern relating to the alleged use of arrest by the police in Bokeo district, Rannakiri province to extort bribes after nine youths had damaged the sign of the ruling party in Soeung village in that commune in the night of 1 July 2008. Through one of its officers named Sok, they ordered their parents to pay 150000 riels or US$37.5 for each of their sons if they were not to be arrested.

I have learned that two brothers named Sev Tha and Sev La were arrested on 2 July. Their father could afford to pay a bribe for the release of Sev La, and the police then Sev Tha to the provincial prison for pre-trial detention on the charge of damage to property with intent. Another father secured the end of the pursuit against his son named Khon Hean with the demanded bribe. The rest of the suspected youths have gone into hiding. They are (1)Sor Thav, (2)Tiv Veng, (3)Chom Tun, (4)Chom Chob, (5) Sev Na, and (6) an unnamed youth.

I have strong doubts whether there are any solid grounds for the police to arrest all those youths on the charge of damage to property with intent, and especially the imprisonment of Sev Tha. Apparently, the youths did not have any intention to damage that party sign that night as they were under the influence of alcohol. They could and should have been ordered to repair it instead of facing criminal liability.

Regarding this criminal liability, the sign post itself was of little value, between US$20 and 30, and if at all there was any damage with intent, this damage was minor, which, according to the Cambodian criminal law (UNTAC law art.52) and  code of criminal procedure (art.204) does not warrant any pre-trial detention at all.

This imprisonment and the use of arrest to extort bribes are abhorrent when the police should serve and protect their people. I therefore urge you to immediately release Sev Tha, investigate this extortion and take action against any officer involved in it.

I trust you positively consider my request.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mr. Hun Sen
Prime Minister
Cabinet of the Prime Minister
No. 38, Russian Federation Street
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 0666
Tel: +855 2321 9898
E-mail: cabinet1b@camnet.com.kh

2. Mr. Sar Kheng
Deputy-Prime Minister
Minister of Interior
No.275 Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh
Fax/phone: +855 23 721 905 / 23 726 052 / 23 721 190
E-Mail: info@interior.gov.kh

3. Mr. Ang Vong Vathna
Minister of Justice
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 36 4119 / 21 6622
E-mail: moj@cambodia.gov.kh

4. Mr. Henro Raken
Court of Appeal
No 240, Sothearos Blvd.
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 21 66 22
Tel: +855 11 86 27 70

5. General Hok Lundy
National Police Commissioner
General-Commisariat of National Police
Phnom Penh
Fax: +855 23 22 09 52
Tel: +855 23 21 65 85

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)


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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.