Tuesday, 21 July 2009

PM's aide linked to detention

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
May Titthara

Hun Sen's assistant confirms role in forcible detention case.

AN ASSISTANT to Prime Minister Hun Sen has been questioned about his involvement in the forcible detention of his cousin, who was reportedly shackled to her bed in her Sen Sok district home for a period of at least two weeks and possibly as long as three months until she was discovered last Thursday.

Svay Yi Pho, 37, was held in her home in Dong village, Teuk Thla commune, Sen Sok district, until workers for the rights group Adhoc discovered her after receiving a tip from an RCAF soldier, said Ouch Leng, an Adhoc investigator, in an interview Monday.

Ouch Leng said he believed Svay Yi Pho had been held for three months by relatives - including Chea Savoeun, an assistant to the premier - who wanted to take from her the US$23,500 she had recently pocketed when she sold her Central Market bookstore.

Interior Ministry officials including Chiv Phaly, deputy director of the ministry's anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, arrived at the house when Svay Yi Pho was discovered. There they questioned Chea Savoeun and six other relatives.

Reached by phone Monday, Chea Savoeun confirmed that he had been questioned in connection with the case.

He also acknowledged that Svay Yi Pho had been held against her will, though he said this had been done for her own benefit, saying that she suffered from an unspecified mental disorder and was prone to neurotic and destructive behaviour.

"We decided to arrest her at her home and to shackle her because we were afraid she would take off her dress and go walk around in public," he said.

He said he did not live with his cousin and did not spend much time in her home, adding that it was only by coincidence that he had been there when rights group and Interior Ministry officials showed up.

He refuted Adhoc's claim that she had been held for three months, saying that she had, in fact, been held for only two weeks.

He acknowledged having taken the $23,500, but he said he did so because she could not be trusted to spend it responsibly, a claim seconded by his wife, Pen Sophanara.

"In just nine days she had spent $1,500, and then she came to ask for more from me," she said.

She added: "If she is not crazy, then why would she sell her bookstore for $23,500? Her store was worth at least $50,000."

Ouch Leng and Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Adhoc and Licadho doctors had examined Svay Yi Pho and concluded that she did not suffer from anything other than stress, which they attributed to her recent divorce.

"Right now we don't have any documents to confirm that she has a sensitive nerve problem," Am Sam Ath said.

Meas Sam Oeun, her ex-husband, said she had suffered from high stress early in their marriage, but that she did not have a mental disorder.

"My wife is a little crazy, but she is smart crazy," he said.

Chiv Phaly said Monday that the case had been sent to the Municipal Court but declined to answer questions about whether an investigation had been conducted or whether Chea Savoeun had been charged.

Municipal Court President Chiv Keng said Monday that he could not comment about the state of the case. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also declined to comment.

Chea Savoeun said the case had nothing to do with him, and that he would not likely be charged with any crime. But Am Sam Ath said Chea Savoeun was a central player in the crime and should be charged accordingly.

"They carried out this mean torture and arrested someone," Am Sam Ath said. "They must be held responsible if anything happened to her while she was inside the house."

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