More than six years after the slaying of Hy Vuthy, a Free Trade Union factory president, one of the men convicted of his murder, Chan Sophorn, 35, appeared in court yesterday for a retrial.
Sous Sam Ath, the judge presiding over the case at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Sophorn was charged with “intentional murder in aggravated circumstances”, a charge on which he was convicted in absentia in March 2012 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
“He was one of a gang of youths that always made trouble for workers at the Suntex garment factory,” Sam Ath said. “He was rearrested after being accused of Hy Vuthy’s assassination and escaping from Phnom Penh. He lived in hiding for years.”
Sam Ath added that Sophorn was arrested when he returned to live with his parents in Phnom Penh early this year.
Vuthy was murdered about one kilometre from the Suntex factory in the capital’s Dangkor district in the early hours of February 24, 2007, after finishing a late shift.
Vuthy had switched unions less than a year before and was reported to have received death threats. He was the third FTU official murdered in three years. Phal Vannak, 34, who was also sentenced to 18 years over the murder, is serving his sentence in the capital’s Prey Sar prison.
According to Sam Ath, witnesses saw Sophorn carrying a K-59 pistol and stalking Vuthy on a motorbike in the days before the union leader’s murder.
But Sophorn yesterday denied he murdered the union leader and said he had been staying with his wife in Kampong Speu province at the time.
“These charges and my punishment are not befitting, because I have not committed this crime,” he said when taking the stand. “I did not know about this murder until police arrested me earlier this year.”
Sophorn’s defence lawyer, Chea Hong Ry, called for the court to release his client.
“There is no real proof to show that [he] has been involved in or has committed this murder as accused,” he said. “Therefore, I would like to ask the court to drop charges.”
After only about two hours of testimony, Sam Ath called an adjournment and did not say when the hearing would resume.
A previous version of this story identified slain union official Hy Vuthy as the president of the Free Trade Union at the time of his death in 2007. He was actually the president of FTU’s branch at the Suntex garment factory.