A Siem Reap provincial judge has convicted three men for the killing of a Sam Rainsy Party activist last year, sentencing each man to 12 years in prison.
Judge Plang Chlam said he convicted Sut Sak, 22, Chhao Chhoeun, 43, and Kut Houn, 39, of the Aug 23 shooting death of Touch Voeun, 54.
Touch Voeun, 54, was shot as he slept in his house in Tameum village, Kompong Kdei commune Aug 23. According to Sam Rainsy Party officials, Touch Voeun worked for the party since 1996 and was a popular Buddhist holy man. He intended to run as a candidate in the Feb 3 commune council elections.
The judge rejected suggestions the defendants were set up by a government eager to hide the political aspect of the homicide.
“They are guilty,” Plang Chlam said. “The court found evidence and had enough witnesses to prove they are the murderers.”
The men had planned and carried out the killing because they believed Touch Voeun had killed a relative of theirs with black magic, the judge said.
“The case was totally not political,” he said.
But Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang disputed the judge’s findings, saying Touch Voeun died because of his challenge to the ruling party.
“Generally, these crimes happen because the CPP has given a green light to the [local] authorities and the local authorities allow CPP to have the power to do this,” he said.
The three suspects also had an argument with Touch Voeun when he came to their house to collect money to support his pagoda, Plang Chlam said.
Touch Voeun denounced the killers, calling them “hellish men” for not spending money on the pagoda, instead wasting their money on wine, Plang Chlam said. According to the judge, the three men replied, “we will shoot you,” said Plang Chlam.
Eng Chhay Eang said he “rejects the court’s view that this killing was a personal dispute.” Touch Voeun did not make the three men angry enough to murder him, he said.
The UN has listed Touch Voeun’s case among 15 election-related violent incidents they found to be politically motivated.