The Svay Rieng provincial court is scheduled today to try three men—including one district policeman—who are charged with killing a Sam Rainsy Party reserve commune candidate in the month before February’s commune elections.
The provincial court first tried the three accused last month, but sent the case back to the investigating judge because the court lacked sufficient evidence and could not render a decision, said one international court observer who attended the June trial.
“There were no eyewitnesses who saw the shooting and no direct evidence [linking the crime] to the accused,” the observer said on Thursday.
The three men standing trial—Keo Thy, Tea Sabon and Svay Chrum district policeman Preap Samol—have all been charged with robbing and shooting to death Sam Rainsy Party reserve commune candidate Touch Sean on Jan 5 in Doun Leb village, Kork Preang commune, Svay Chrum district.
At the time of the shooting, witnesses told provincial authorities that they heard Touch Sean telling her killers that she was just “a simple person” before she was shot once in the chest.
The three suspects have been behind bars since their arrest in January.
Touch Sean, 42, was one of three women politicians—two commune candidates and one village chief—from either the opposition party or Funcinpec who were fatally shot during a three-day period in January.
Appointed Funcinpec village chief Ngoun Choun and Funcinpec commune candidate Long Phan and her husband were shot and killed on Jan 3 and 4 in different districts of Kampot province.
The prosecutor working on the Touch Sean case confirmed on Sunday that the Svay Rieng provincial court will try the three men today, adding that the court did not have sufficient evidence to try the men during the first trial on June 13.
The prosecutor, who declined to be identified, said the main evidence against the accused comes from Touch Sean’s son, who told the prosecutor that his mother identified the accused as the killers before she died.
When asked if the motive behind the killing was political, the prosecutor responded that there was “no political motivation—this is the real property robbery case.”
Svay Rieng Deputy Chief of Judicial policeman Prak Cham, who had previously investigated the shooting, agreed with the prosecutor that the motive behind the killing was robbery.
Officials from the Sam Rainsy Party disagree.
“I stand by my original statement that [Touch Sean] was killed because she was a popular Sam Rainsy Party candidate,” Phi Thach, cabinet chief for the opposition party, said on Friday. “The family did not lose any assets, so how could it have been robbery?”
Previously, Phi Thach has said that Touch Sean had an argument with the CPP chief of Kork Preang commune, Kgon Sao, over a party sign erected at her house. He also said that village authorities had harassed and threatened Touch Sean and other Sam Rainsy Party candidates and activists because of her advocacy work in the area.
Phi Thach said he was not hopeful that justice would be found in the Touch Sean case.
“I don’t think a trial conducted by the courts at this time will be fair,” he said. “I have no confidence that justice will be found.”
At least 17 commune candidates or activists from the Sam Rainsy Party and Funcinpec were killed before the election, but authorities have found convictions in only six cases. In those cases, the UN and Human Rights Watch criticized the courts for either convicting the wrong people or not observing the legal process.
Officials from the UN declined to comment on the Svay Rieng trial set for today but said they would send an official to observe the trial.
Svay Rieng did not experience the most election-related violence of any province—in Kompong Cham, five commune election candidates were killed—but the province had several incidents of election-related disturbances.
Two days before the Feb 3 elections, an election monitor for the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections was found dead in his home in Svay Rieng’s Svay Teap district.
Sao Savon had been stabbed several times with a knife and shot in the head. So far, no one has been arrested in connection with the killing.