Groups Renew Call To Free Chea Vichea Convicts

As the highly anticipated Dec 31 Supreme Court appeal hearing for the two men convicted in the murder of union leader Chea Vi­chea ap­proaches, international groups have once again called for their release.

Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea was killed in broad daylight on a Phnom Penh street in January 2004. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested shortly thereafter and each sentenced to 20 years in prison, after a highly criticized investigation and trial.

Despite calls for the men’s re­lease, the Appeal Court upheld their conviction in April last year.

In a statement released Tues­day evening, human rights group Amnesty International demanded that the Supreme Court overturn the conviction of the two men.

“In view of the human rights violations perpetrated during their detention and trial, including torture or other illtreatment, unfounded and inadmissible ‘evidence’ and deeply flawed court proceedings, this is the only fair and just outcome of this case,” Am­nesty said.

Amnesty claimed in the statement that the two men were as­saulted in police custody and Born Samnang coerced into a confession, and that police also intimidated witnesses.

“The case is bigger than itself, and therefore the pressure on the Supreme Court is even higher,” Amnesty’s Cambodia researcher Brittis Edman said by telephone from Sweden.

“If the decision is to uphold the decision of earlier instances, then that would be a signal the Cam­bo­dian authorities are not serious in improving the state of rule of law in the country,” she said.

The International Labor O­r­gan­iz­ation’s Committee on Free­dom of Association has also called for a new investigation into the murders of Chea Vichea, as well as Ros So­van­nareth and Hy Vuthy, two other assassinated FTU leaders.

In November, the committee re­ported that officials from its fact-finding mission into the killing of Chea Vichea had been verbally intimated and that the government had “demonstrated an un­willingness to engage in fully frank discussions over these serious matters.”

The UN Office of the High Com­missioner ­for Human Rights in Cambodia also put its weight be­hind the ILO conclusions in a statement re­leased Wednesday, calling for “independent inquiries.”

“There are reasons to doubt the validity of the convictions of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for the killing,” the UN statement read, recalling the removal of the initial investigating judge who had originally dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

The UN statement also noted that the Supreme Court cannot tech­nically overturn the case, but only send it back to the Appeal Court “with a clear in­struc­tion to abide by Cambodian penal law and international fair trial standards.”

Though such statements by in­ternational organizations are made without the knowledge of the de­fendants, they could help their case, Sok Sam Oeun’s law­yer, Hong Kim Soun, said Wednesday.

“These ideas could affect the judges in considering this case, and I strongly support these initiatives,” he said.

Mok Chito, director of the pe­nal police department at the Ministry of Interior, said he had not received an order to reopen the Chea Vi­chea murder case, and he declined to comment on accusations of po­lice brutality and intimidation in the investigation.

Born Samnang’s mother, Noun Kim Sry, said that she still had hope that her son will be freed.

“I am still hopeful that my son will be released soon after the hearing Dec 31,” she said. “I have waited since the last hearing and want the court to release my son,” she added.

Supreme Court Prosecutor Chhoun Chantha declined to com­ment on the upcoming case when he was contacted Wednesday.

Related Stories

Latest News