Sunday, November 14, 2010

Constabulary Notes

From the "Police Blotter" of the Phnom Penh Post:
Cops nab ‘gangster’ wielding two cleavers
Battambang provincial police on Monday arrested one of eight “gangsters” accused of injuring two people from a rival gang with meat cleavers. Police said the two gangs fought outside a dance party in Moang Russey district, but so far were unsure of the reasoning behind the scuffle. They arrested one suspect, 30, and confiscated two long cleavers used to injure two rivals, aged 42 and 16. The suspect denied involvement in the fight, despite having the cleavers.

In a country  -- in this case Cambodia -- where the outcome of criminal trials is usually determined by the relative sizes of the bribes being offered and by which side the local power structure favors, newspapers have to be careful about what they report and how they report it.  Generally speaking, the only reason a story like the one above ever appears in print is that the events were witnessed by dozens and dozens of people, and it would look peculiar for no public notice to be taken.  

But since there's no way to know -- no matter what happened -- how the judge will ultimately rule, the language in which these stories are written degenerates into a kind of journalistic "cloud-speak" that raises more questions than it answers.  "The suspect denied involvement" although the altercation happened in front of the whole party and in spite of having the weapons in his possession.  And was one person wielding two long cleavers?  Is he ambidextrous?  Did he singlehandledly injure two people?  Or did the other guy or guys bribe the cops on the spot?  If there were "eight gangsters" did seven of them evaporate?  Was one person designated to take the hit?  And (as the paper obviously anticipates), will even he ultimately be found innocent?

Then there's this kind of story - Suong Sophorn, a man evidently beaten by police (in front of a crowd) at a demonstration against, of all things, the government's attempt to stonewall a UN probe into police brutality and torture.

“They hit me in the head with a walkie-talkie, punched me in the face several times, hit me with an electric baton and then pulled me into the car by the throat,” Suong Sophorn said yesterday. 

Daun Penh deputy governor Sok Penhvuth denied that police had used force against the protesters.

“Suong Sophorn pushed the authorities and then hit his head repeatedly against the police car door,” Sok Penhvuth said. “No one hit or arrested him – the police just helped him get treatment.”

Aren't you glad you're not a reporter in Cambodia?  The man just beat himself up with the door of a police car, and this claim -- by a very high-ranking official -- has to be soberly reported.  

And finally, you have a story from the simply incomprehensible category, in which all the words form sentences and the sentences form paragraphs, but when you've finished reading it, you know to the bottom of your soul that you have no idea what happened.  

Man warned against walking, not hanging
A 26-year-old man hanged himself in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Wednesday because his parents warned him against walking. Police claimed the man committed suicide by hanging himself with a scarf after his parents warned him not to go walking very often. Instead, they wanted him to concentrate on the family business, and his constant walking was preventing that. Police concluded that the suicide was caused by the warning.

This is the kind of thing you'd get if Salvador Dali had been a writer, not a painter.


  1. Tim,
    This is absolutely priceless! It's classic 1984 speak. Not restricted to Cambodia, however. In the apartheid days here we had a minister of police who claimed with a straight face that a political prisoner, who had died by falling from a sixth story window, jumped in order to escape. Later another prisoner 'committed suicide' by repeatedly banging his head against a brick wall.
    The amazing thing is not that people say these things, but that some people actually believe them!

  2. A few years ago the Phnom Penh Post carried the story of a man who committed suicide by hanging himself from the rafter of his house after tying his hands behind his back and shooting himself in the head. The local police chief reported no suspicious circumstances. Local NGO workers reported that the police chief had wanted to buy the man's farm.

  3. Hey, Michael, hey, Igor -- It's pretty astonishing what papers print under a repressive regime, isn't it? Depressing to hear these monstrous lies quoted and to realize that the people who told them will probably die fat, happy and pain-free. One of the worst experiences I've ever had, back in the old days, was to read stories like the ones you quote while deeply, tragically hung over. It was horrifyingly disorienting, almost enough to make me think I was no longer functioning cognitively.

  4. Tim,

    Writing as I am from the cradle of democracy, I was busy yesterday observing a local mayoral election runoff, and didn't get to see your post until this morning. Serendipitously, that gave me a slightly different take on the serious discussion your post triggered.

    The Greek national media is free to do as it pleases and has focused considerable attention on a mega-financial scandal haunting the island's current mayoral administration.

    This morning it was the nation's press astonished at the free and non-repressed, rather than the other way around.

    "Thieves Vote For Thieves," was how one TV network put it. Go figure.