Videos of a mob beating on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard last week quickly went viral on Cambodian social media.
In the videos, a man is seen attempting to flee from an accident on the major thoroughfare, in which three people died. Driving on the wrong side of the road, the motorist is pursued by an angry mob who drag him from his car before beating him until police arrive.
The driver survived, but was hospitalized with serious injuries.
Such scenes are not uncommon in Cambodia, where hit-and-run drivers, petty thieves, suspected sorcerers and others are frequently subjected to mob justice.
Experts who spoke to VOA Khmer say that a major factor driving mob beatings and killings is a lack of accountability and perceived injustice in society.
Ear Chariya, an independent traffic safety expert, said hit-and-run drivers were rarely seen to receive the proper punishment, “so the people lose trust in the authorities and choose to find justice by their own hands.”
“Normally, the police arrive too late.”
He added that the lack of police action had created a vicious cycle where the chance of mob killings had created a justification for drivers to flee the scene of accidents.
“If they escape the scene there can’t be any repercussions,” he said.
Yang Kim Eng, head of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said that because a crime had been committed, it was not justified to respond with violence.
“The driver who killed people had already committed a crime, but the bystanders who beat him are also committing a crime,” he said. “When the public becomes the judge, society falls into chaos.”
“Poverty, migration, and other social insecurities and pressures could make people feel frustration and easily lose control of their anger and patience.”
Run Rothveasna, director of the interior ministry’s public order department, said drivers who flee the scene of an accident should face up to five years in prison and lose their driving license.
“It’s better to let the law judge his acts, not the people. We call on all citizens to respect the law rather than causing injury to the wrongdoer.”
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said while the government did what it could to punish offenders, it was impossible to prevent every mass outburst of anger.
“People are not gods who can always calm their anger,” he said.
Local rights group Licadho reported that two people were killed in mob attacks so far this year, while four were killed in 2016.