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Union murder appeal denied

Union murder appeal denied

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090219_01.jpg

No witnesses come forward to support overturning of conviction: Court of Appeal

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Thach Saveth at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

THE Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Thach Saveth, who was convicted of murdering a union leader in 2004. Thach Saveth's lawyer, along with the human rights NGO Licadho, condemned the unanimous ruling by a panel of three judges.

In 2005, Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the shooting of Ros Sovannareth, a union leader who was gunned down on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard in May 2004. Thach Saveth has always denied involvement in the killing, the second of three union leaders murdered in three years.

Presiding Judge Um Sarith said Wednesday the bench would not overturn Thach Saveth's original conviction because his testimony to the investigating judge in the original case had differed in some respects from his testimony to the lower court.

Um Sarith also said no credible witnesses had come forward to give the court reason to reverse the Municipal Court's decision.

Thach Saveth's defence lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, called the ruling a violation of his client's human rights and said he would appeal to the Supreme Court in less than one month.

"I am very disappointed with the court's decision to uphold the charge against my client without credible evidence and witnesses to support the charge against him," he said.

Sam Chamroeun said his client was innocent and reiterated the claim that Thach Saveth had been in Siem Reap on the day of the killing.

Thach Saveth's appeal attempt followed the recent Supreme Court decision to free two men convicted of murdering another union leader. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun 

were provisionally released after spending five years in jail for the murder of Chea Vichea in 2004. The Supreme Court in December sent the case back to the Court of Appeal for reinvestigation.

Ros Sovannareth, who was the union president at the Trinunggal Komara garment factory, was shot dead in a killing that rights activists said was similar to the murder of Chea Vichea.

Licadho deplored Wednesday's ruling. In a written statement, Licadho said both hearings had been "blatantly unfair", arguing that the prosecution's case relied on a series of inconsistent written statements by police witnesses whom defence attorneys were not allowed to cross-examine. Some witnesses had identified Thach Saveth as the shooter, while others had said he was the driver of the motorbike used in the killing.

At a February 11 Court of Appeal hearing, the court refused to allow the sole police witness, who was there at the request of the defence, to testify.

A disputed ruling

Licadho said both hearings suggested "a total lack of respect for the presumption of innocence".

"The judges placed the burden on Thach Saveth to prove his innocence, rather than on the prosecution to provide overwhelming evidence of his guilt," the statement asserted. "There is every reason to believe that the case against Thach Saveth was fabricated. He was arrested by the same Tuol Kork district police officers who framed Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun."

Thach Saveth's mother, Huon Phalla, attended the hearing and was similarly displeased with the outcome. When the ruling was announced, she cried out: "It is very, very unjust - my son is innocent."

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