Chea Vichea Case Delayed by Lawyer Boycott

A long-awaited trial for the two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea was postponed Tuesday when their law­yers boycotted the court proceedings.

After a brief session, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kong Set ordered suspects Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun re­turned to PJ prison, where they have been detained since their ar­rest following Chea Vichea’s Jan 22, 2004, shooting death.

“We postponed the trial today be­­­cause this case is a criminal case, and the culprits need to have lawyers present at the trial,” Kong Set told reporters after the session.

The suspects’ lawyers, who be­long to the Cam­bodian Defenders Project, a legal aid group, de­clined to show up for Tuesday’s scheduled trial in order to push their clients’ case through the due process of law, said CDP Exe­cu­tive Director Sok Sam Oeun, who is no relation to the suspect of the same name.

Since the two men have been de­­­tained far beyond the legal six-month pre-trial detention period, CDP lawyers Chum Sovannaly and Khov Chantha had appealed for the Supreme Court to grant them bail after the Appeals Court de­­­­nied their release last month.

The lawyers are urging that a Su­­­preme Court bail hearing be held before the men are put on trial, the CDP director said.

“We don’t trust that the lower court is [courageous] enough to ac­quit our clients,” he said.

“We want to test the Supreme Court first. If they agree to release our clients” the Municipal Court may then be emboldened to acquit them when it comes time for a trial, he added.

The CDP director said the de­fense lawyers nevertheless had wit­­nesses to provide alibis for the suspects on the day Chea Vichea was killed and could prove them in­­nocent. In contrast, he said, the police have provided no evidence linking the men to the crime.

In March 2004, former municipal court investigating judge Heng Thirith had dropped all charges against the two, citing lack of evidence, but that decision was later overturned and Heng Thirith was re­­­moved from his position.

On Tuesday, Vorn Phon, 62, the father of suspect Sok Sam Oeun, insisted his son is innocent.

“I strongly believe my son couldn’t have done what they ac­cused him of doing. Even when he wanted to eat chicken, he dared not cut the chicken’s neck because my son is afraid of blood. And now they accuse him of being a killer,” Vorn Phon said.

(Addi­tion­al reporting by Wency Leung)

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