After more than nine months in prison, wrongly convicted murderer Chan Sophon was released by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday following his exoneration in the 2007 killing of Free Trade Union leader Hy Vuthy due to a lack of evidence.
Sophon had been sentenced in absentia to 18 years in prison after being convicted of aggravated intentional murder in March 2012. He was finally arrested last April, but following a new investigation and a retrial last month, the court found there was no hard evidence linking Sophon to the crime.
“Based on hearing, the court has found that Chan Sophon, 35, is not guilty, because there was no real proof or witnesses to show that he was involved or had killed the victim, Hy Vuthy, former president of the [branch of] the Free Trade Union … at the Suntex garment factory, in 2007 as accused,” presiding judge Kor Vandy said.
“Therefore, the court has decided to drop the charge against Chan Sophon, and orders his release,” he added.
Sophon was originally convicted along with Phal Vannak, 34, who is now serving his 18-year sentence in Prey Sar prison, but Vandy noted yesterday that Vannak would not receive a retrial, as his case had already been thoroughly investigated.
According to police, Hy Vuthy, 34, was shot dead in February 2007 in Dangkor district, about a kilometre from the Suntex factory, while riding his motorbike home after a night shift. The murder was reportedly committed by two men on a motorbike.
Sophon was initially fingered as a suspect after witnesses claimed they had seen him carrying a pistol and tailing Vuthy in the days leading up to the murder.
Chea Hong Ry, Sophon’s defence lawyer, applauded the court’s decision yesterday, as did Sophon, who said he was “very happy” with the verdict.
Vuthy was the third FTU union representative – after factory rep Ros Sovannareth and FTU head Chea Vichea – to be killed in as many years. The investigations into both those murders were also widely considered to be flawed, and in both instances, those convicted of the crimes were ultimately released.
According to current FTU leader Chea Mony – who is also Chea Vichea’s brother – yesterday’s release of Chan Sophon was just another instance in a pattern of Cambodian authorities targetting the wrong suspects while refusing to investigate those really responsible.
“This has shown that the Cambodian authorities and the court have no real will to investigate and seek the arrest of the real killers,” he said.