The Supreme Court today opened an appeal from Thach Saveth, who was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in prison for the murder of a prominent trade unionist.
Ros Sovannareth, the Free Trade Union’s representative for the Trinuggal Komara garment factory in Phnom Penh, was gunned down in Tuol Kork district in 2004 while riding his motorbike.
His murder came just under four months after Chea Vichea, the FTU’s president, was shot and killed in Daun Penh district.
Thach Saveth was sentenced for Ros Sovannareth’s murder in 2005 and the conviction was upheld by the Appeal Court in 2009.
At todays hearing, Thach Saveth said he didn’t know Ros Sovannareth and was in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district at the time of the murder.
“That day, I visited my aunt in Anlong Veng and returned back to Siem Reap town to sleep for one night,” he said.
“They charged me wrongly.”
Thach Saveth testified that when he was arrested in July 2004, he was questioned by police about drug-related incidents and he admitted to being a drug user.
Later, he said, he was surprised when the court charged him with Ros Sovannareth’s murder.
“[The arrest] was arranged,” he said. “I request the court to find justice for me because I did not commit [the crime]”.
Human rights group Licadho has been critical of Thach Saveth’s conviction. Prior to 2009’s appeal verdict, Licadho issued a statement saying the case had a “lack of credible evidence against him”.
“There are remarkable similarities between the case of Thach Saveth, and that of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the two men who were unjustly convicted of killing another trade unionist, Chea Vichea,” the statement read.
Born Samnang and Sak Sam Oeun were released in 2009 after nearly five years in prison.
Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s monitoring supervisor, said today that the investigations into the Ros Sovannareth and Chea Vichea cases were handled by Heng Pov, a disgraced former police chief convicted in 2006 for the murder of a Phnom Penh municipal judge.
Chea Mony, leader of the FTU, said after the hearing that the suspect was “not involved in the killing” and that the Supreme Court “must reconsider this case”.
A verdict will be announced on February 16.