After spending 2,073 days in prison, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were exonerated on Wednesday by the Supreme Court of having killed popular union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.
Since their arrest on January 28 of that year, their case had gone back and forth between the various courts. They were released on bail in December 2008 then resentenced in 2012.
Mr. Samnang was undecided Thursday whether he would file a complaint seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
“I am not sure if I will file for compensation or not, I will discuss it with my family. But for me, I don’t want to demand compensation because being released is enough for me,” Mr. Samnang said.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun of the Cambodian Defenders Project said that although the two men would be entitled to immediate compensation in other countries, their chances of getting it were slim in Cambodia.
“It is very hard. One requirement is both of them must file a complaint. Second, they must have evidence to prove that at the time of their arrest, the police knew that they weren’t the real perpetrators and that they put them in jail as scapegoats,” he said, adding that the two men would also have to find a strong lawyer who is willing to take the case.
“Then they have to file a complaint with the police,” asking to investigate the very police officers who arrested them, Mr. Sam Oeun said.
“And then the question is: Has the court enough courage to give them justice?” he said.
In Germany, for example, the process would be much simpler. If a final judgment states that someone was wrongfully sentenced and has already spent time in jail, the minimum indemnification is 25 euro, or about $35, for each day spent jail. The indemnification is paid by the federal government, according to Article 7 of the German law on Compensation of Measures for Criminal Prosecution, which also states that a complaint for additional compensation can be filed.
Under German law, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun would receive a minimum of $72,555 each.
According to the penal code of the state of California, a maximum of $100 per day of wrongful incarceration is paid to the claimant, which would entitle Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun to a maximum of $207,300.
Lawyer Sok Sam Oeun said that judiciary reform was needed to install a similar system here, in which compensation was in place for innocent citizens who spent time in jail after a conviction.
“We can build on this case and have to think about a future law reform…where the government must pay for anyone who was maliciously arrested. This also makes sure that all police are careful with evidence before they arrest someone,” he said.