The judiciary should weigh only the evidence and ignore political interference at today’s scheduled hearing for two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea, Human Rights Watch said in statement Wednesday.
Reports of physically coerced confessions and outside pressure on a judge have sullied the case so far, the New York-base organization noted.
“This hearing is a critical test for the Cambodian judiciary,” said Sara Colm of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “We hope that the Appeals Court carefully considers the evidence in making its decision, rather than responding to political pressure.”
The outspoken president of the Free Trade Union and a Sam Rainsy Party activist, Chea Vichea, 36, was shot dead Jan 22 at a Phnom Penh newsstand.
One week later, Municipal Police paraded Born Samnang, 23, and Sok Sam Oeun, 36, before reporters—boasting of the quick arrests while the suspects wept and wailed that they were innocent.
Opposition party politicians and human rights workers dismissed the police presentation as a charade. The next day Born Samnang claimed to have been the trigger man, while Sok Sam Oeun maintained his innocence.
Villagers in Prey Veng province later told reporters that Born Samnang was celebrating Chinese New Year with them at the time of the killing.
Other inconsistencies in the police’s case surfaced. Perhaps most notably, the cyclo driver named by police as their principle witness to the shooting—the man who fingered the shooter—examined a photograph of Born Samnang and told reporters he was not the killer.
When Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Hing Thirith dropped the charges against the suspects on March 19 due to a lack of evidence, a deputy prosecutor appealed the ruling.
The Supreme Council of Magistracy then called for Hing Thirth’s removal from the court. Hing Thirith said he was dismissed because he defied a high ranking-official’s orders to send the case to trial.
Since the day Chea Vichea died, the case has drawn international attention.