The Koh Kong Provincial Court yesterday convicted a private security guard of accidentally killing the military police officer who allegedly shot dead the country’s most prominent environmental activist, Chut Wutty, and sentenced him to two years in prison.
The presiding judge, Kham Sophary, then immediately suspended 18 months of the two year sentence, meaning that Rann Boroth, who worked for the Timber Green logging company, could go free as soon as Saturday.
“The court sentenced Rann Boroth to two years, with six months in jail starting from the day of his arrest,” Judge Sophary said when contacted by telephone after the verdict yesterday. He declined all further comment.
Under the Penal Code, the maximum sentence that can be handed out for “accidental” killing is three years.
Human rights groups rebuked the court both for the verdict and for Mr. Boroth’s October 4 trial, at which Judge Sophary also announced that he had dropped the investigation into Chut Wutty’s April 26 killing. Judge Sophary said at the time that the investigation into the killing of the prominent anti-logging activist had ended because the military police officer who allegedly shot Chut Wutty was already dead.
Chut Wutty, who had often tangled with authorities in his work to protect the forest, was investigating reports of illegal logging in a remote part of the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong province when he was shot dead on April 26.
The area he was investigating was under the control of the Timber Green company, for whom Mr. Boroth was a security guard.
Chut Wutty was traveling with two journalists from The Cambodia Daily at the time of the fatal shooting. The shooting followed after Mr. Boroth, and several military police and soldiers confiscated cameras from the journalists and Chut Wutty and would not let them leave the area.
At his October 4 trial, Mr. Boroth claimed that military police officer In Ratana shot Chut Wutty with an AK-47 assault rifle after a heated argument between the two men. To prevent any more shooting, Mr. Boroth claimed that he then tried to wrestle control of the rifle away from In Ratana, at which point the weapon discharged accidentally, sending two bullets into In Ratana’s chest.
But human rights groups have raised doubts about that account of the killing of Chut Wutty and In Ratana since it was first made in May by a special government commission formed to investigate the double killing.
In a statement yesterday, local human rights group Licadho called the entire judicial process, from the investigation of the double killing to yesterday’s sentencing, “a mockery of justice from day one.”
“A shooting leaves the most prominent environmental activist in Cambodia dead, as well as a military police officer, and the result of the investigation is that the one private security personnel who was not armed during the incident gets six months in prison,” Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said in the statement.
“This is a very chilling precedent for anyone who wants to speak out against the status quo in Cambodia,” Ms. Pilorge said.
Licadho also criticized the court for dropping its case into Chut Wutty’s death without definitively proving that In Ratana was in fact the killer.
“Without such evidence, it is not possible to legally establish that Boroth acted in self-defense by trying to disarm Ratana,” the statement said. “Yet no credible evidence of Ratana’s guilt was revealed during Boroth’s cursory 90-minute trial. Indeed, no hard evidence was presented whatsoever.”
The statement went on to fault the prosecution for presenting no analysis of the bullets, fingerprints and burn marks on In Ratana’s chest. There was also no evidence showing the location or the number of bullet casings found at the scene of the shooting.
Licadho noted that only one eye-witness corroborated Mr. Boroth’s account and that the court offered no explanation for the absence of several other witnesses from the trial.
The version of events presented during the trial was also the third official account put forward by government authorities. Before the special commission issued its conclusion, officials claimed that In Ratana, after shooting Chut Wutty, had shot and killed himself with his own AK-47 in grief after killing the forestry activist.
Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s technical supervisor, said his organization would continue to investigate Chut Wutty’s death in hopes of convincing the court to reopen the case.
Chut Wutty’s son, Cheuv Odom Reaksmey, said Mr. Boroth deserved a heavier sentence and that he was not happy with the court’s decision to drop his father’s case.
“I am still disappointed the court decided to drop my father’s case and did not investigate more to find the killer who shot him dead while he was looking for illegal logging,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)