Judge Says His Removal Was Political

Hing Thirith, Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge, has claimed that the Supreme Council of Magistracy decided on his removal following his refusal last week to comply with unlawful orders from a high-ranking government official.

He said that he had been preparing to drop charges against the two suspects in the Jan 22 killing of union leader Chea Vichea since March 15, “but the situation was very difficult at the time.”

“Some people ordered me to pass this case on to trial,” he said in an interview.

“The arrests [of suspects Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun] were very illegal,” said Hing Thirith, who cited a lack of

evidence when he handed down

his controversial decision on Friday.

Hing Thirith declined to name the high-ranking official who has exerted influence on the case.

“I cannot reveal the name, but he is a senior government official,” he said.

On Wednesday, Hing Thirith went public with his revelations of political influence over the country’s judiciary on a Beehive Radio talk show and appealed to foreign embassies to protect him and his family.

“I request that the US Embassy grant me a visa as soon as possible, in order to protect me against possible future danger,” he said. “I also appeal to other embassies for the same thing.”

“This does not mean that I want to run away from the country, but it would be useful to escape for a while when facing danger. I do not know if they will be angry because of what I have said.”

Hing Thirith was asked on the radio show whether he had often encountered pressure from outside the judiciary when trying cases.

He replied, “It is common. Not only me, but my friends face the same thing, but we do not have the evidence to prove it. But about 30 percent of court cases receive pressure.”

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said if Hing Thirith was being influenced he would file a request today with the Supreme Council asking it to ensure that he is never allowed to work as a judge or lawyer in Cambodia again.

“The council fired him for good reason. If he himself is under the influence of the government, it means that he is a bad judge and deserves to be removed,” Khieu Kanharith said. “What he said, it is like he shot himself in the foot,” he said.

On Wednesday, a member of the Supreme Council of Magi­stracy, who declined to be named, denied that Monday’s decision to remove Hing Thirith had anything to do with recent high-profile cases or judicial reform.

He said that Hing Thirith and Oun Bunna, another judge whose dismissal was decided Monday, had made mistakes.

“The mistakes cannot be revealed to the public,” the magistrate said, adding that such removals are “common practice.”

Action is not common, however, by the Supreme Council, the country’s highest legal body.

The council is responsible for monitoring the conduct of the judiciary and ensuring its independence, but its last measure was upholding the firing of two top Municipal Court officials by then-governor of Phnom Penh Chea Sophara in early 2000.

Lawmakers and observers have criticized the council as being ineffectual and heavily influenced by the CPP.

Hing Thirith also said he would appeal to King Norodom Siha­nouk, who is now in China but normally presides over the Su­preme Council, to review his re­cord of more than 2,000 judgments.

Hing Thirith said Tuesday that very few of his decisions had been overturned on appeal, many fewer than his colleagues.

“So this case is really just about politics,” he said.

“The Supreme Council should award me with a medal for my judgment. They should not mistreat me like this.”

Ly Vuoch Leng, director of the Appeals Court and member of the Supreme Council, was also featured on the Beehive radio talk show. She confirmed the removal of Hing Thirith and Oun Bunna.

She said that more court officials are scheduled to be removed, but declined to give names or say from which court.

Oun Bunna said Tuesday that he would not contest the council’s decision until it is made official.

Hing Thirith said he has written to Senate and CPP President Chea Sim, who, as acting head of state, presided over the council’s Monday meeting, to request a copy of the meeting’s minutes.

The minutes will form part of his complaint to King Sihanouk and the Constitutional Council and will be used in his defense “before the law as stated in the National Constitution.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Hing Thirith said that his involvement in three politically charged court cases might have caused his fall from favor.

He investigated Chea Vichea’s suspected killers, the ownership dispute of the pro-Funcinpec radio station FM 90 and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nhim Sophea, whose charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter after the case went to trial.

He also said that his frequent appearances in the media had angered senior judges and other government officials.

“I had gone on FM 102 and explained about the law, and they don’t want people to explain about the law. They were unhappy that we explained the detention process,” he said.

“Senior officials didn’t like what I did for society’s interests.”

Hing Thirith added, “Every time the young judges try to make the judiciary legitimate, we run into trouble.”

He referred to his former classmate and Municipal Court colleague, Sok Sethamony, who was gunned down last April and whose killers remain at large.

“Sok Sethamony handled the complicated cases, like I do,” he said.

“I am glad they keep me alive because I want to write a book [explaining law] for the younger generations.”

The removal of Hing Thirith and Oun Bunna is likely to become official at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for April 19, a Supreme Council member said on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)

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