Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Chea Vichea’s death marked

Chea Vichea’s death marked

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former Free Trade Union president Chea Mony (centre) addresses a gathering to mark the 13th anniversary of the murder of his brother, labour leader Chea Vichea, in Phnom Penh yesterday. Pha Lina

Chea Vichea’s death marked

Unionists, workers and civil society organisations yesterday marked the 13th anniversary of the killing of prominent union leader Chea Vichea, with many observers finding it hard to ignore the stark parallels between the case and the murder of political commentator Kem Ley last year.

The memorial, the first since Ley’s death in July, was attended by a small crowd of less than 100 unionists and civil society members and held at a statue of Vichea on Sihanouk Boulevard – not far from the Wat Langka newsstand where he was shot dead on January 22, 2004.

The opposition-aligned Vichea, who formed the Free Trade Union with opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s assistance, was gunned down in broad daylight in what was widely considered a politically motivated killing.

Attendees, including a few opposition officials, prayed and placed flowers at the statue, with Chea Mony, Vichea’s brother and a former head of the FTU, saying he had lost any hope the government would solve his brother’s case.

“It has been 13 years already. Where is my brother’s justice? Where are the suspects? There are no answers,” he said, standing in front of his brother’s statue.

Two suspects – Born Samnang and Ouk Sam Ouen – were convicted for the murder, despite having alibis. The two, who were widely considered scapegoats, were ultimately released, but only after serving five years, for lack of evidence.

Mony also decried the inaction by an inter-ministerial committee set up in 2015 to re-investigate Vichea’s death, which had yet to release any updates.

The committee was also expected to look into the killing of two FTU factory presidents, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy, shot dead in May 2004 and February 2007, respectively.

Meanwhile, the similarities to the more recent murder of Kem Ley – who was gunned down last July while having his morning coffee – were unmistakable.

Police soon apprehended former soldier Oeut Ang, who later confessed to the killing. However, police have since discredited Ang’s suggestion that he killed Ley over a $3,000 debt, without providing any alternative narratives.

Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month quietly notified Ley’s wife that it had closed the investigation into the killing, but without addressing any of the findings.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A monk lights incense at a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the death of Chea Vichea in Phnom Penh yesterday. Pha Lina

Linking the two cases, Ley’s brother Kem Rithiseth said it was hard to distinguish between the two. “The murder of the two of them is of the same manner, they both come from the same group – people who fight for justice – and the authorities delaying the cases,” he said, adding both cases would likely be solved only with a new administration and reformed court system.

Licadho’s Am Sam Ath said authorities had erred by convicting Samnang and Sam Ouen, and looked set to make another error with Ley’s alleged killer Ang – who initially maintained that his name was Choub Samlab, which means “Meet to Kill”. Though Ang is thought to be the triggerman, his motives have been questioned, and even authorities have acknowledged he may not have acted alone – albeit without identifying possible co-conspirators.

“Although authorities arrested Choub Samlab, they could not really identify the killer or other involved people behind this killing. Therefore there must be powerful people behind this – it is very good show [of action], similar to Chea Vichea’s murder,” he said.

Given that Vichea and Ley were vocal opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen, it was not a stretch to assume the government was behind the killings, said Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. “The investigations into the killings of both Chea Vichea and Kem Ley have been total farces, created to give an impression of professional policing when there was never any intent to find the real killers,” he said.

However, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin quickly dismissed any criticism of the handling of Vichea’s case and said civil society was only jumping to conclusions. “They are just outsiders and they do not know what happens behind case,” he said. “The investigation takes time because our techniques are limited and it is a huge, complicated crime.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the

  • S’ville set to turn into ‘second Shenzhen’

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance has awarded a master plan consultancy contract to top Chinese institute for the development and transformation of Preah Sihanouk province into a “Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone”, Southeast Asia’s next logistics and resort hub and innovation centre. The