The Appeals Court has called for more investigation into the case against the two
men charged with slaying union leader Chea Vichea, despite hearing of police beatings
to force confessions, ongoing bribery and alibis.
After a four-hour hearing yesterday (July 1), presiding judge Thou Mony upheld a
prosecution challenge to the dropping of charges against Bourn Samnang and Sok Samoeun,
and sent the case back to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
"The investigation of the Phnom Penh court investigating judge is not complete,
it is [only] on the way," said Thou Mony.
Lawyers for the two accused, who are seen by some as scapegoats for the politically-charged
murder of outspoken Sam Rainsy Party supporter Chea Vichea on January 22, expressed
disappointment and frustration at the verdict. The pair have been in custody since
January 28, despite charges having been dropped for lack of evidence in March.
"Now we are discussing [with Bourn Samnang's lawyers] whether we file a complaint
to the Supreme Court or agree to send back to the Phnom Penh court," said Chea
Dara, lawyer for Sok Samoeun.
Dara said the hearing showed shoddy police work and lawyers for both suspects said
bail would be sought if the case returns to the Municipal Court.
Sok Sam Oeun, lawyer for Bourn Samnang (and no relation to the other suspect), said
he was not surprised with the result, saying it reflected "the same tone"
of discussions he had with the general prosecutor two weeks ago about the case.
On March 19, investigating judge Hing Thirith dismissed the murder charges against
the men, citing lack of evidence, but an appeal was lodged by Phnom Penh Municipal
Court prosecutor, Khut Sopheang. Hing Thirith has since been transferred by the Supreme
Council of Magistracy to Stung Treng province in Cambodia's remote north.
Human rights observers decried the decision to continue with the case.
"The trial today shows a fundamental contradiction in that the judge ruled there
was enough evidence to continue, but then referred the case back for more investigating,"
said Sara Colm, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division.
Colm said the suspects faced "the very real risk of physical reprisals"
once they returned to prison, especially Bourn Samnang, who repeated previous allegations
that police beat him to force a confession and told the court he had been receiving
cigarettes and money from police while in jail.
From the dock, Samnang produced a wad of cash in a ziplock plastic bag from his pocket
and presented it as evidence to the presiding judge, saying that he was the only
one who received preferential treatment in prison
The money was not returned during the hearing.
Samnang also told the court that Ly Borasy, a senior police officer with the intervention
unit, threatened to hurt him on the night of January 29 if he didn't confess to the
killing, and coached him on what he should say.
Earlier that same day, both suspects pleaded their innocence before media, with Bourn
Samnang saying police had hit him and threatened more violence unless he confessed.
On January 30, Samnang signed a confession for the prosecutor and for the investigating
judge the following day.
Sok Samoeun has consistently denied any involvement in the murder, saying he was
drinking with friends at the time.
Seven witnesses testified at the appeal that Bourn Samnang was with them in Prey
Veng celebrating Chinese New Year from January 21 until his arrest in the early hours
of January 28.
Other witnesses, including six police officers involved in the arrests, failed to
show up for the hearing.
Presiding judge Thou Mony said he wanted to ask why Toul Kork district police were
involved in a case that occurred at a newsstand next to Wat Langka, in Boeng Keng
Kang 1 district.
After the hearing, Bourn Samnang's mother and friends wept on the court steps as
he resisted police efforts to get him into a van.
"I didn't shoot [Chea Vichea]. What I have said the Toul Kork district police
prepared for me," said Samnang, appealing to the King for intervention. "I
ask the Phnom Penh court judge to find justice for me, don't be afraid to lose the
Sok Samoeun also protested his innocence from the police van and criticized the trial."I
didn't commit any wrongdoings. This is like a film that they continue to produce."