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Chea Vichea 'killers' get message of hope

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Heng Chivoan

Sok Sam Oeun’s father and Born Samnang’s mother release balloons at an event Tuesday outside the Police Judicial, or PJ, prison in Phnom Penh, at which their sons are currently detained.

ABOUT 80 friends, family members and supporters of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun - imprisoned since 2004 for the alleged killing of labour leader Chea Vichea - gathered Tuesday at the Police Judicial, or PJ, prison in Phnom Penh to ask for their release.

The group launched white balloons, one for each of the 1,700 days the two men have spent in prison.

Chea Vichea was shot and killed in downtown Phnom Penh in January 2004. Six days later, police arrested Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang.

Judge Kong Seth found both men guilty despite a lack of corroborating evidence and sentenced them to 20 years each in prison. In 2006, the primary witness to the murder - the owner of the newsstand where Chea Vichea was shot - released a written statement saying the two men were innocent.

Chea Vichea's brother, Chea Mony, attended the gathering and told local and international observers that Phnom Penh's former police commissioner, Heng Pov, had confirmed the two men's innocence.

Chea Mony, who replaced his brother as head of the Free Trade Union, said he attended the event "to tell Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun not to feel hopeless and to send a message to the Appeals Court to revisit the case, have a hearing and seek justice for them".

Lawyers for the prisoners filed an appeal with the Supreme Court last year, but 17 months have passed with no word from the court.

Nourn Kimtri, the mother of Born Samnang, remains hopeful that her son's conviction will be overturned.

"I continue to hope that the courts will give my son justice and release him from prison," she said.

The Supreme Court appeal may not be the only way to get justice, Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, told the Post Tuesday.

"We're hoping that the King and prime minister will grant them a pardon," he said.

Vann Sopath, Licadho's deputy director of communications and advocacy, said the event was not just about demanding justice.

"The release of these balloons ... sends an important message to Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun that there is a crowd of people ... paying attention and intervening to help them seek justice."

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