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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pair convicted of killing Vichea appeal to King

Pair convicted of killing Vichea appeal to King

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Bourn Samnang yells that his conviction is an "injustice" as he is lead from court August 1.

T

he two men convicted of killing trade union leader Chea Vichea will ask King Norodom

Sihamoni to grant them Royal amnesties and will also request intervention in their

case from top government officials.

The parents of Sok Samoeun and Bourn Samnang said their sons have agreed to request

a Royal amnesty but will also write to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom

Ranariddh before they lodge a complaint with the Appeal Court. The two men have 60

days to file an appeal, beginning with the date of their conviction.

"If they can grant amnesty, this is the best way," said Somoeun's father,

Vuon Phon, after visiting his son August 9. "If they don't, we still have at

least 10 days to appeal to the court."

On August 1, the Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced Samoeun, 36, and Samnang, 24,

to 20 years in prison for the assassination of Vichea, who was shot three times while

reading a newspaper outside Phnom Penh's Wat Lanka January 22, 2004.

Both men, however, have alibis for the time of the murder, and serious breaches of

court procedure have led human rights groups to brand the suspects as scapegoats

for the highly political murder.

During the day-long hearing, presiding judge Kong Seth, questioned five family members

of Samnang's girlfriend. All of them testified that the 24 year old was at Neak Leung,

60 kms from the capital, celebrating Chinese New Year when the murder took place.

Sok Samoeun says he was at a party in Phnom Penh, but other party-goers have declined

to testify, citing fear of violent repercussions, according to Samoeun's father and

human rights workers.

Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho, said the evidence did

not prove the crime and the case was another example of the court's lack of independence

from political pressure.

"Sadly, this is just another day of gross injustice. There was absolutely no

evidence - no eyewitness evidence, no forensic evidence linking the crime to Mr.

Bourn Samnang and Mr. Sok Samoeun," Pilorge said, outside the court August 1.

"With the pending Khmer Rouge tribunal, it seems impossible in Cambodia to get

a court to render justice," she said.

In a letter to Hun Sen dated August 3, general secretary of the International Textile,

Garment and Leather Workers' Federation Neil Kearney said the verdict would have

no international credibility and be seen as a cover-up.

"From start to finish the whole process has been deeply flawed," Kearney

wrote. "The trial was a farce. The judge's verdict was based on statements made

to police by a number of witnesses, none of whom appeared in the court for questioning."

David Gainer, spokesperson for the US embassy, said there were "serious concerns

with the weakness of the evidence presented in this case."

Lawyers, human rights monitors, supporters of the suspects and journalists packed

the courtroom for the long-awaited trial.

No substantial new evidence was presented to the court since the case was dismissed

by Judge Hing Thirith for lack of evidence last March. Thirith was subsequently demoted

to a position in Stung Treng province.

Speaking at the trial, Samnang repeated previous claims that police had beat him

after he was arrested and forced him to thumbprint a confession letter that named

Sok Samouen as an accomplice.

"Police ordered me to say that I am the man who shot Vichea three times, and

Samoeun is the moto driver," Samnang said.

He also told the court that Toul Kork police chief Hun Song and Phnom Penh municipal

police officer Ly Rasy brought money and sex workers to his cell at PJ prison, the

only prison under the control of municipal officials.

Witnesses for the prosecution who identified the men at the scene of the crime did

not attend the trial and requests from the defense counsel to bring them in for cross-examination

were denied.

Chum Sovannaly, Samnang's defense lawyer, said the court decision violated his client's

rights because it ignored conflicting witness accounts and accepted "illegal"

evidence, noting that the presiding judge usurped the role of the prosecutor.

The court also ordered the two men to pay $5,000 each to the victim's family, but

Vichea's brother, Chea Mony, said he would not accept the money because he did not

believe that Samnang and Samoeun were guilty.

Mony, who is now president of the Free Trade Union his brother formerly led, appealed

to the government to find the real killers and allow the court to work independently.

Following the verdict, King Father Norodom Sihanouk wrote to the parents of Samoeun

and Samnang saying he did not believe their sons were guilty, but he did not have

any power to intervene. He gave each family $200.

"I hope one day the court will acknowledge their wrongdoing and release Sok

Samoeun and Bourn Samnang," said the letter, posted to Sihanouk's Web site.

Sihanouk, who reigned until last October, occasionally pardoned those sentenced in

politically charged cases. He gave amnesties to several students convicted of involvement

in the anti-Thai riots of 2003. He also pardoned Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Nhiek

Bun Chhay following the coup in 1997, and he pardoned Prince Norodom Sirivudh in

1995.

King Sihamoni has not granted any royal amnesties since assuming the throne in November.

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