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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chea Vichea murder case remains a bitter pill

Chea Vichea murder case remains a bitter pill

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TRACEY SHELTON

Around 100 people gathered at the location where trade union leader Chea Vichea was murdered four years ago. Two men convicted for the crime remain in jail despite evidence proving their innocence.

Four years after union leader Chea Vichea's assassination, a ceremony drew more than

100 people to the spot where he died near Wat Lanka, and seven international rights

groups demanded the two men convicted in the killing be exonerated and released.

Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union, the organization he co-founded in 1996,

was gunned down in broad daylight on January 22, 2004 at a newsstand near the pagoda.

The key witness in the case-Va Sothy, owner of the newsstand-was meters from Vichea

when he was shot and gave a notorized statement that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun

were not the shooters.

Six days after the killing, on January 28, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun-who apparently

were unknown to one another until the trial-were arrested in Neak Leung, Prey Veng

province and Phnom Penh respectively. The trial attracted widespread condemnation

from local and international rights groups who said the case was flawed by political

interference in an attempt to find a scapegoat for the murder. Both men are serving

20-year prison sentences for murder.

Vichea was an outspoken Trade Union leader and supporter of the Sam Rainsy Party.

"I consider Chea Vichea to be a national hero," said Vuon Phon, 64, father

of Sok Sam Oeun, who attended the commemoration on January 22. "He advocated

to increase workers salaries and aimed to help them improve their living standards.

He was working to protect workers' rights and their interests. I am sure my son did

not kill him."

He said he hoped the demonstration marking the anniversary of Chea Vichea's killing

would serve as a warning to the courts - the Phnom Penh Court and the Appeal Court

have both upheld the convictions - of their failure to bring justice in the case.

"The court convicted my son and Born Samnang unfairly," he said. "Even

the King Father said that the two men are not the real killers. I have many times

appealed to the Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Sihamoni to intervene. In constitutional

law the King has the right to give amnesty, but it depends on the will of the Prime

Minister as well. I hope we can free my son this way."

In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and four other regional and international

rights groups, said the continued imprisonment of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun without

credible evidence against them was of grave concern.

"Any objective examination of all the available evidence shows that these two

men never should have been arrested, much less imprisoned for four years already,"

Basil Fernando, executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission,

said in the statement.

The statement calls the trial "grossly unfair" and said the police and

court investigations were marred by "numerous irregularities."

The irregularities include the torture of Born Samnang to extract a confession and

that the first judge in the case-Hing Thirith -was removed from his position and

transferred to Stung Treng in the remote north of Cambodia after he dropped charges

for lack of evidence. The charges were reinstated.

"The subsequent trial of the two men was conducted in a manner that flagrantly

violated Cambodian law and international fair trial standards," the statement

said. "In April 2007, the country's Appeal Court upheld their convictions despite

its own prosecutor acknowledging that there was insufficient evidence."

 

Having previously kept silent for fear of retribution against her, witness Va Sothy

fled to a neighboring country under protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Her statement saying the men arrested were not the men she saw, was ruled inadmissible

by the Appeal Court last year.

Chea Vichea's family members also believe Born Samnang, now 27, and Sok Sam Oeun,

40, are innocent.

"I went to Chea Vichea's funeral when he was shot," said Nuon Kimsry, 49,

mother of Born Samnang. "I didn't imagine that his case would end up involving

my family."

She visits him every month. "He has lost hope of release, he has appealed so

many times and nothing has changed," she said. "I feel the same but for

his sake I always try to stay positive.""

Sok Sam Oeun's father Phon, clad in old mustard colored flip flops, explained that

he borrowed 50,000 riel to make the trip from Takeo to Phnom Penh for the ceremony.

"I want to see my son, but now I have no money," he said. He said his son

is in a cell with 17 people -not including Born Samnang -at the new police headquarters

in Phnom Penh.

Phon holds out hope that the Supreme Court will overturn the guilty verdicts.

"I want the Supreme Court to conduct a hearing very soon, this is my one hope,"

he said. "But I know the Supreme Court will not release my son because if they

do it will be an insult to the police. If the Supreme Court upheld the previous convictions

then it means everything is finished."

Chea Mony, brother of Chea Vichea, and the new president of the Free Trade Union,

said if the court is just the men will be freed from jail.

"We all know the Cambodian courts have not brought justice for my brother's

death," he said.

Born Samnang's defense lawyer, Chum Sovanaly, confirmed that he submitted all the

evidence and documents in the case to the Supreme Court in December and has not yet

been informed when the case will be heard.

"I hope the Supreme Court will take the case to trial in late February or March,"

he said. "I think the court is working on the case, but I do not think the decision

will be different from the previous courts."

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