Families Fall in Debt as Sons Are Jailed for Chea Vichea’s Murder

Six months after Born Samnang was arrested for the killing of Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004, his mother Nguon Kimsry found herself living in only half a house. The other half of her small concrete home in Phnom Penh was sold off in July 2005 to pay prison guards at PJ Prison for access to her son, and to pay for Born Samnang’s food, she said.

“Since the arrest I’ve had to spend a lot of money and borrow from neighbors,” the 46-year-old divorcee said Thursday in an in­terview in her home in Tuol Kok district.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, sentenced to 20 years each in August 2005 for Chea Vichea’s killing, are waiting in jail for the Appeals Court to reschedule their hearing, which was postponed  Oct 6 after Judge Samreth Sophal called in sick with diarrhea.

In the meantime, their families say they are getting deeper into debt, trying to keep them healthy, and never doubting their innocence. Many rights workers agree that the pair are not guilty.

“The food there, [Born Samnang] cannot eat,” Nguon Kimsry said of PJ prison. “My son has health problems—he cannot sit very long or read newspapers.”

His food costs her $17.50 per month, she said.

Nguon Kimsry says she also must pay about $0.50 to guards at the prison’s gate when she visits. This has forced her to cut her visits from once a week to once a month. She says that without Born Samnang to support her, she relies on selling used clothes at markets and on the little money her adult daughter Born Sreyna makes selling lottery tickets.

Sok Sam Oeun’s family lives in a small, thatched home in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, and each time they come to Phnom Penh for his court appearances, the trip costs them about $30, his 63-year-old father Vuong Phun said in an interview last week.

This is no small sum for Sok Sam Oeun’s parents and four brothers and sisters who live off the 42 kg of rice their 36-square-meter farm yields each year and the firewood Vuong Phun collects and sells.

They used to pay each month $12.50 for Sok Sam Oeun’s food, $5 for his spending money, and give the guards $2.50 per hour when they visited him, Vuong Phun said. But they can no longer afford to do this every month.

Like Nguon Kimsry, Sok Sam Oeun’s 60-year-old mother Bros Thoeuy says she is also concerned for her son’s health. “His body looks unhealthy because he cannot exercise,” she said. “One day I will ask the court official to allow me to stay a night in jail with my son as I miss him so much.”

Asked about guards charging prison visitors, Sam Ny, documentation bureau chief at the Interior Ministry’s prison department, said this was not official procedure.

“There is no policy to charge the prisoners’ visitors,” he said, though he added that he was unsure of the specific conditions at PJ prison.

As for food, prisons generally pay about $0.35 per day for each prisoner’s food, he said. This is sufficient, he added. Srey Watha, director of PJ prison, could not be reached for comment.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap has stood by the conviction of the two men, saying their was sufficient evidence to sentence them.

But the parents of both Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun say they used to believe Cambodian courts could ensure justice, but have since changed their minds.

“Before I trusted the court, but now I don’t,” Nguon Kimsry said. “The court has turned from white to black.”

Sok Sam Oeun’s parents lost their faith in the judiciary when the courts took no action after retired King Norodom Sihanouk said that the two men were innocent in an August 2005 letter, Vuong Phun said.

“I raised my child with my own hands, so I know that he would never kill people,” he said. “I want the government to amend the judicial system to be independent, but it is up to whether the government is willing to do it.”s

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