Thursday, March 6, 2014

Roughed up by Cambodian police

I saw this policeman beating a ‘street woman’ (homeless) with a bamboo cane. Her baby, less than six months old, was sitting on the pavement, crying. I pulled out my iPhone to film. The cop stopped beating the woman and came after me. I took some photos. He was not  happy. I took some more photos and he became less happy still.

Stop taking photos and give us your camera

Before long I had half a dozen cops chasing me down the street demanding that I give them my iPhone. I declined politely. They were persistent. I declined less politely. The tried to grab the phone from me. I refused to release it from my tightly clenched hand. It is not easy to unclench a clenched had! 

The cop becoming quite insistent that I stop taking photos
A small crowd gathered. I told the cops, through someone standing closeby who spoke some English, that I would not be giving them my iPhone. The cops said that I would be arrested if I did not delete the photos. I told them I was not going to delete them. Brute force came into play again and I found myself wrestled to the bitumen in the middle of street 136. This was a blessing, actually, since I could now protect my iPhone with my body. This did not stop the cops trying to get it. They did not succeed. I shouted to the crowd to please film what was happening if they could. A young engineer by the name of Josh trid to film but was told that if he did he would be on the ground with me. I asked Josh to call the Australian Embassy. He did. 

The chase begins
As I lay on the road Josh got through to the Embassy and, after being put through a few extensions, was talking to the relevant person. Josh explained what had happened; that there was an Australian citizen lying in the middle of the road and policemen wanting me to surrender my mobile phone.  He then held the phone close to my mouth so that I could explain my predicament in my own words – that I was lying in the middle of road 136 with half a dozen or so cops standing over me. 

The cop trying to hide his identity
The man from the Australian embassy (I never did get his name) then explained to me and then to Josh that he would make some enquiries. Great! More than two hours later he is, it seems, still making his enquiries! Then a journalist with a proper camera turned up. Rick, I knew him. The moment the cops saw him filming they melted away. Half an hour later, the cop who had been beating the woman with his bamboo cane arrived back at the scene of the crime in civilian clothes, riding a motor bike. When he realized that Josh and I had recognized him he turned and sped off. 

The cop trying to get my iPhone from me!
Later I learned that he had started making enquiries as to where I am staying, so I am sure this is not the end of it. However, it turns out that the incident was filmed by three different smart phones. Grainy and wobbly though the images are, it will be difficult for this particular cop to talk his way out of what happened. Not that he will need to. He is the local bagman. His job is, I have learned, to collect money from all the hotels, clubs and bars in the street and hand the money up the line. This is how the patronage system works.

Welt on the leg of the woman who was beaten by the policeman

Down but still with my iPhone

Saved by a real camera! Thanks, Rick.

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