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Ax hangs over judge who dropped Chea Vichea charges

Ax hangs over judge who dropped Chea Vichea charges

Days after investigating judge Hing Thirith decided to drop the charges against two

suspects in the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea, press reports have emerged

saying he will be dismissed from duty at next month's meeting of the Supreme Council

of Magistracy (SCM).

On March 24, the Cambodia Daily quoted Ly Vouch Leng, director of the Appeals Court

and a member of the SCM, confirming plans to dismiss Thirith and fellow-judge Oun

Bunna at an April 19 meeting of the SCM.

But when contacted by the Post on March 25, Leng said, "Don't ask me I don't

know," before hanging up.

Thirith dropped the charges against Bourn Samnang and Sok Samoeun on Friday March

19 citing inconsistent evidence, but the men remain in custody pending an appeal

lodged by prosecutor Khut Sopheang the following Monday.

Thirith also admitted he had faced pressure from a senior government official to

"push the case to trial" but said he would not identify the person without

evidence to back up the accusation.

He said he will accept his removal if sufficient evidence is provided of mistakes

he is alleged to have made, but backed away from previous assertions the he is a

victim of politics, saying, "I don't want the situation to be more tense."

Hing Thirith is no stranger to controversy over his role investigating some of the

most politically charged cases before the Phnom Penh municipal court. He was investigating

judge in the case that saw Hun Sen's nephew Nhim Sophea recently sentenced to 18

months prison for his involvement in a shooting spree last October.

The decision to drop the charges against Samnang and Samoeun was hailed as "a

step towards the independence of the judiciary" by the Cambodian Human Rights

Action Committee on March 25.

The Cambodian Watchdog Council (CWC) said in a press release on March 25 that they

had great concerns for Hing Thirith's safety and urged foreign embassies, the UNHCR

and human rights groups to monitor his security.

They also appealed to King Norodom Sihanouk, who is the Constitutionally-appointed

president of the SCM, to intervene in Thirith's alleged dismissal.

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