Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Four years on, Chea Vichea accused back in prison

Four years on, Chea Vichea accused back in prison

Four years on, Chea Vichea accused back in prison

Sok Someoun front cries at the Appeal Court by Sreng Meng Srun

Sok Sam Oeun (C) cries at the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
In a startling about-face, the Court of Appeal this morning upheld the convictions of two men widely believed to have been wrongfully accused of the 2004 slaying of unionist Chea Vichea, and sent them back to prison to serve out the remainder of their 20-year sentences.

Born Samnang, 29, and Sok Sam Oeun, 32, spent nearly five years in prison before the Supreme Court ordered their provisional release in late 2008 pending a re-investigation of the case.

In January 2004, a week after the Free Trade Union president was gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of Phnom Penh, the pair were arrested and charged with the murder.

After denying any involvement – weeping and begging for help as police carted them in – one then confessed, though later recanted, saying he had been coerced by the police.

Rights groups criticised the verdict from the start, saying the men were set up to take the fall for a political assassination. Years later, the disgraced former municipal police chief Heng Pov confirmed as much, saying in an interview with French newsmagazine L'Express in 2006 that the men had been framed for a murder that was a government-ordered conspiracy.

The reams of exculpatory evidence did little to help either man this morning.

Reading out the verdict, Judge Chuon Sunleng said that despite the inconsistencies between witness and suspect testimony highlighted by the Supreme Court, the reinvestigation corroborated the original findings: the pair had, in fact, committed the murder.

In addition to 20 years imprisonment, both men were ordered to pay 40 million riel to Chea Mony, brother of Chea Vichea and current FTU president.

As the men were led from the court to the prosecutor’s office for processing this morning, Samnang began sobbing uncontrollably, pushing against the police who, at the start of the trial, had quietly entered the court room.

“Why are you doing this?” he screamed. “Why?”

For the past four years – as the  politically sensitive case has bounced from the Appeal Court to the Municipal Court and back, as verdict after verdict has been delayed - the men had attempted to carve out fresh lives in spite of the conviction that hung over their heads.

Ten minutes after the pair had been escorted up the stairs and into the office to sign away another 15 years of their lives, Sam Oeun’s wife came running up.

With one arm, she wiped back tears. With another, she clutched their baby daughter.

“My husband is the breadwinner in the family,” she said.

“Without him, we have no one to depend on.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at [email protected]
Kim Sarom at [email protected]


  • Thousands attend CNRP-organised pro-democracy vigil in South Korea

    Thousands of supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Saturday gathered in the South Korean city of Gwangju to hold a candlelight demonstration calling for the “liberation” of democracy in Cambodia. Yim Sinorn, a CNRP member in South Korea, said on

  • US Embassy: Chinese trade does not help like the West’s

    The US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday said relations between China and Cambodia did not create jobs or help industry when compared to the trade between the Kingdom and the US. “About 87 per cent of trade [with China] are Chinese imports, which do not

  • Cambodia-Thailand rail reconnected after 45 years

    A railway reconnecting Cambodia and Thailand was officially inaugurated on Monday following a 45-year hiatus, with the two kingdoms’ prime ministers in attendance at the ceremony. On the occasion, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha travelled together from Thailand’s

  • Vietnamese land-grabbers held

    Following a provincial court order, Ratanakkiri Military Police on April 16 arrested 12 Vietnamese nationals accused of crossing the border into Cambodia and illegally clearing forest land. The accused are now being detained at Phnom Svay prison in the province. Ratanakkiri military police commander Thav Yen told