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Chea Vichea 'killers' appeal

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

The Supreme Court on December 31 will hear the controversial case of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the murder of union leader Chea Vichea

Photo by:
Tracey Shelton

A flame burns in front of a photograph of assassinated union leader Chea Vichea at a memorial service held for him earlier this year.

AFTER 1,799 days in prison, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun will have another chance at freedom.

The two men convicted of murdering trade union leader Chea Vichea will have their case heard by the Supreme Court on December 31, a court official told the Post.

Chhoun Chantha, the deputy general prosecutor at the Supreme Court, confirmed the trial date and said that Supreme Court Deputy President Khim Ponn will preside over the case.

Chea Mony, the current president of the Free Trade Union and brother of activist Chea Vichea, said that he had received an invitation from the Supreme Court to attend the trial and reiterated his belief that the two men were innocent.

"We will wait for the decision from Supreme Court. The previous courts acted under pressure from the government," Chea Mony said. "If the court is independent, and they investigate the case, then the men will be freed."

Chea Vichea, an outspoken union party leader and Sam Rainsy Party supporter, was shot and killed in broad daylight in Phnom Penh in January 2004. Six days later, police arrested Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang for the crime.

Despite claims by rights organizations that the allegations were groundless, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the Phnom Penh Municipality Court in August 2005.

A year later, the primary witness to the murder - the owner of the newsstand where Chea Vichea was shot - released a notarised statement saying the two men were innocent.

Nuon Kimsri, mother of Born Samnang, said she will attend the hearing and expects her son to be released.

"I visited him yesterday at the Provisional Jail, and he is fine," she said. "My son still claims he is not the killer."

Vuon Phon, father of Sok Sam Oeun, said that he, too, will attend the trial, but given past results he is uncertain how the courts will rule.

"Even though I don't know whether my son will be freed or not, I want the trial to begin soon," Phon said.

The previous courts acted under pressure from the government.

Am Sam Ath, a Licadho monitor who has followed the case for years, said that the court will reconsider the case because the public and civil society groups have demanded their release for a long time.
"They have been in jail for four years so far," Sam Ath said. "The detention of innocent people is a terrible abuse. The court should deliver justice."

For rights organisations, this case has become an icon of Cambodia's supposedly broken justice system.

In  2007, Licadho called the case "the most glaring example of impunity and miscarriage of justice in Cambodia".

Naly Pilorge, the director of Licadho, said in a media statement in September that the Cambodian justice system "must be judged by how the courts deal with real people suffering real injustices, like Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun".

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