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Union killer pleads for release

Union killer pleads for release

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Licadho president Kek Galabru hands Thach Saveth malaria medicine after he left the Court of Appeal on Wednesday. Heng Chivoan

The Court of Appeal will decide next week whether to overturn the conviction of Thach Saveth, who was found guilty in 2005 for killing a union leader.

THE Court of Appeal will rule February 18 on whether to uphold the conviction of Thach Saveth for the 2004 murder of union leader Ros Sovannareth, said presiding Judge Um Sarith at the end of a two-hour hearing Wednesday.

The conviction has been widely condemned by rights groups who attended the hearing in force. Three judges heard the prosecution and defence restate their respective cases, which largely resembled those offered during the original trial in 2005.

At that trial, the prosecution successfully argued that Thach Saveth was one of two assailants who gunned down Ros Sovannareth, the union president at the Trinunggal Komara garment factory, on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard on May 7, 2004. Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutor Pan Kimleang said during the hearing Wednesday that he still believed Thach Saveth was one of the killers, arguing that accounts provided by the Tuol Kork district police officers who originally detained him proved his guilt.  

But Sam Sokong, a lawyer for the Cambodian Defenders Project working as part of Thach Saveth's defence team, said his client was in Siem Reap on the night of the killing, adding that relatives traveling with him could corroborate the alibi.

In a statement released after the hearing Wednesday, the rights group Licadho argued that the 2005 conviction was "based on prosecution witnesses who did not appear in court and therefore could not be cross-examined". Defence witnesses who offered an alibi on behalf of Thach Saveth, the statement claims, "were ignored".

[the case] has no credible evidence, no gun and no reliable witnesses.

Prosecutor Pan Kimleang said at Wednesday's hearing that the alibi would be more credible if it did not rely exclusively on the testimony of Thach Saveth's relatives.

For his part, Thach Saveth maintained his innocence and pleaded for the court to "give justice to me because I really didn't kill Ros Savannareth".

"It is the wrong allegation against me," he said.  

On to the Supreme Court?

 In an interview with the Post after the hearing, Licadho President Kek Galabru called the prosecution's case weak and said the conviction should be overturned.

The case, she said, "has no credible evidence, no gun and no reliable witnesses to prove that he is the killer".

She said she would push for an appeal to be lodged with the Supreme Court if the Court of Appeal upholds the original conviction in its ruling next week.  

She drew comparisons between Thach Saveth's case and that of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, which went to the Supreme Court late last year. That hearing resulted in the provisional release of the two suspects, who had served nearly five years for the killing of Chea Vichea, a union leader who was shot and killed in 2004 near Wat Lanka. Rights groups, including Licadho, challenged the credibility of the charges in that case as well.

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