The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday acquitted a man who was tried late last month in connection with the racist mob killing of an ethnic Vietnamese man in February.
Nguyen Vann Chean, 30, drove his motorbike into the back of a car in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Loeu commune before 10 p.m. on February 16. As he lay injured, a crowd gathered around him and started beating him around the head to shouts of “Yuon fight with Khmer!”—using the often derogatory term for Vietnamese. The mob grew to an estimated 20 people and the victim was killed at the scene.
Bun Chanvutha, 51, was swiftly arrested, accused of having yelled the racial epithet and charged with aggravated violence. Nine witnesses testified on behalf of the victim and three on behalf of the police during the May 30 trial. On Monday, the court announced there was insufficient evidence of guilt.
“The court has acquitted Mr. Chanvutha of aggravated violence in relation to the death of the victim, because the court did not find him guilty,” said Presiding Judge Kor Vandy.
He did not say whether the case would be sent back to the investigating stage, however police said their investigations into additional suspects are ongoing.
February’s murder came weeks after Vietnamese businesses were looted and torched during a wave of violent garment strikes in Phnom Penh and after months of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric in public speeches made by CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.
Speaking outside the court room Monday, Mr. Chanvutha said he was relieved to have been acquitted, but was angry that he spent four months in Prey Sar prison awaiting trial.
“I should have been released in February, because I did nothing,” he said.
He claimed that he ran out on to National Road 2, where the accident happened, after witnessing it from his house.
“About five minutes later, about 10 Vietnamese and 10 Cambodians started attacking each other,” he said. “I was also a victim and I was hit many times.”
Nguyen Vann Chean’s widow, however, was disappointed with the outcome. Just three months ago, she had a baby and is now struggling to raise the child.
“I am demanding compensation…but I got nothing from this case,” she said. “I am poor, raising a three-month-old baby without a father. I am disappointed in this case.”
Huot Vanna, the Chak Angre Loeu commune police chief, said Mr. Chanvutha had initially been questioned alongside his son, Bun Chansithivan, 21, who has since gone on the run.
“We have not finished with this case and the police are continuing to investigate to find other suspects,” he said.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO), called on authorities to continue their investigations into the murder.
“We fear that with this case, there will be more impunity,” he said. “In Cambodia, that always happens—not just to Vietnamese.
“MIRO wants to send a message to all in Cambodia to respect each other. Even if you have a different ethnicity or origin, please respect each other, otherwise we will have ethnic conflict.”
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)