In Judiciary, Some Shaken by Police Behavior Shakes Some in Courts

A few days before Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony was shot to death April 23, Phnom Penh Deputy Police Commissioner Heng Pov came out strongly against the municipal court for releasing a man suspected of leading a gang of kidnappers.

Heng Pov defied the court’s decision and, without a court order, re-arrested the suspect, claiming at the time that “it was inappropriate for the judge to release the ringleader.”

His actions on that day have become typical of the relationship between the courts and the municipal police force, court officials said Wednesday, claiming that the police either are defying court orders or are influencing the court’s decisions through inaction.

“I can’t say that the re-arrest by the police was wrong or right, because I am afraid for my personal security,” said Kim Sophorn, the judge who originally ordered the release of Chan Saeb, the man who police accused of being a ringleader of a gang of kidnappers and who was later re-arrested.

Although Kim Sophorn de­clined to comment on how many times the police had acted against court orders, Phnom Penh Muni­cipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said that in the past year, police had re-arrested four suspects the courts had released.

Despite this, he said, “police can’t affect the court’s decisions.”

“I am not afraid for my security, because what I have done complies with the law,” he said. Ngeth Sarath was also shot at and roughed up two weeks ago by two men accused of attempting to extort money from him in Russei Keo district.

The recent killing of high-profile judge Sok Sethamony has also left some in the judiciary questioning whether the police will protect their security.

“I am very afraid that I will be killed,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Hing Thearith. “Now it is difficult to decide these cases because of this emotional intimidation.”

He said he wanted the police to find the killers of Sok Sethamony as soon as possible and to reduce any intimidation associated with the killing.

It is the perceived inaction by the police, however, which also adds an element of pressure on the courts, said one international legal observer who works closely with the courts.

“It is natural that the courts feel afraid when the police are mainly accusing the judges of being corrupt or of being in love affairs,” the observer said Wednesday. “But how many times have the police said ‘We are going to arrest these men and stop the killings?’ How much are the police reassuring the court officials of their safety?”

The day after Sok Sethamony was shot and killed, Heng Pov said that the judge may have been killed because “he was naughty,” and implicated the judge in a love affair.

Heng Pov, for his part, denied that there was any friction between the courts and the police, saying, “We respect the court orders—we never reject the court orders.

“Everything is for justice, and we need to respect justice,” he said. When asked why some court officials may feel undue pressure or friction between themselves and the police, he said that it was the court’s problem or “duty,” and not the fault of the police.

(Additional reporting by David Kihara and Saing Soenthrith)

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