A Cambodian detainee said by authorities to have died of pneumonia was actually killed in custody, the young man’s mother says, citing injuries seen on his body after it was returned.
Pin Kimseng, a 21-year-old resident of Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet city, had been detained in February in connection with a theft and was found dead on May 3 after prison officials sent him for medical treatment at a referral hospital in Battambang.
Hospital head Kak Seila wrote on Pin Kimseng’s death certificate that he had died of pneumonia, but the victim’s mother, Met Soksan, said her son was in good health when he was detained and had never had pneumonia in the past.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Met Soksan, 41, said she saw bruising and other signs of physical assault on her son’s body when it was returned to her.
“His head was swollen, with blood running out of both ears, and his neck was limp and appeared to be broken,” she said, adding an appeal to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to find answers in the case.
“Even if I get nothing in return, I at least want to know what my son did wrong to deserve being tortured to death like this. This is a grave injustice,” she said.
A video taken of Pin Kimseng’s body after his death, and obtained by RFA, shows visible bruising on his neck and blood flowing from both ears, staining his face.
Met Soksan added that she has already reached out to the provincial office of Cambodian rights group ADHOC for help in filing a complaint in the courts and other relevant government departments to seek justice for her son.
Pin Kimseng was arrested by Battambang provincial police and sent for detention in early February in connection with a case of theft committed in the province’s Kamrieng district, and during his three months in custody he made two phone calls to his family, sources said.
Allegations of drug use
Speaking to RFA on May 6, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons—denied that Pin KImseng had been tortured and repeated the Battambang hospital’s claim that he had died of pneumonia.
“We don’t recognize this as a case of torture,” he said, adding that Pin Kimseng had a history of drug use that had likely contributed to his death.
“I asked for explanations from our drug experts, and they said that he appeared to have used a type of drug that seriously affected his health when he tried to stop using it,” he said.
Chhan Touch, a U.S.-based Cambodian doctor working in Lynn, Massachusetts, called that explanation “nonsense,” telling RFA that pneumonia doesn’t cause a victim’s head to swell, or cause blood to flow from his ears, or break his neck.
“Based on the descriptions we’ve heard, I believe that he most likely died of torture,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, Battambang provincial ADHOC coordinator Yin Mengly said the circumstances of Pin Kimseng’s death raise doubts and suspicions that should now prompt further investigations by authorities.
“Why did he have pneumonia only three months after being placed in detention, when he had never had this disease before?” Yin Mengly asked.
“Both the provincial prison and the hospital should have written more detained reports regarding the conditions leading to his death, so that the public can believe that he really did die of pneumonia,” he said.
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