Four years after the assassination of Free Trade Union Leader Hy Vuthy, Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday tried his alleged killers in their absence in a one-hour proceeding during which no eyewitnesses were summoned and no physical evidence was examined.
Hy Vuthy’s widow, Va Sopheak, and her lawyer were absent. The lawyer said he had not been notified that the trial would be held.
Hy Vuthy was gunned down in February 2007 as he left the Suntex garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district, the third killing of an FTU leader in as many years.
Though authorities had not announced arrest warrants in the case, Presiding Judge Ke Sakhorn said the court had ordered the arrests of Chan Sophon, 32, and Phal Vannak, 32, on April 7, but that the men, Hy Vuthy’s coworkers, had fled.
The sole witness to testify yesterday, former Suntex security guard Ouk Lomphath, said he did not know who killed Hy Vuthy.
“I don’t know the reason for killing him. Hy Vuthy was a gentleman,” Mr Lomphath told the court. “I think he died without justice.”
The only other evidence presented at yesterday’s hearing were two written statements.
Court clerk Vay Sophal read a statement from Ms Sopheak, saying her late husband had told her there were many unions at the Suntex factory and someone had “called him and threatened to kill him” unless he stopped work as an FTU leader.
The court clerk also read the statement of Penh Sonith, identified as Hy Vuthy’s friend and colleague at Suntex. The statement said the 5,000 Suntex workers were represented by four competing unions.
Mr Sonith’s statement said he had seen the suspects argue with Hy Vuthy at the factory. Mr Sonith claimed he and another colleague gave each of the suspects $10 not to destroy Hy Vuthy’s car. The statement also related a rumor that Mr Sophon had a handgun.
Lawyers for Hy Vuthy’s widow Va Sopheak did not participate in yesterday’s hearing and said they had received no summons or notice of the trial.
“We have received no information about the arrest of suspects, or the trial,” said Ham Sunrith, a lawyer from the human rights organization Licadho representing Ms Sopheak. “This is of great concern to us.”
Court appointed lawyer Neang Hay, representing the suspects tried in absentia, said there were no witnesses who could identify his clients. Mr Hay said the only evidence held against his clients was that people had overheard them arguing with the deceased.
Mr Hay said there was no forensic evidence linking the handgun that killed Hy Vuthy to his clients or proving his clients had a handgun at all.
“If the police knew my clients really killed the victim, why did the police not arrest them at that time?” said Mr Hay. “No witness confirmed that my clients killed the victim. I ask the court to please acquit my clients.”
Deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth acknowledged there were no eyewitnesses to the murder.
Mann Senghak, FTU adviser, said the investigation had taken too long.
“If these suspects are not the real killers, Hy Vuthy and his family will not get justice,” he said.
The trials of accused murderers of two other FTU leaders were marked by irregularities.
The two men convicted of the January 2004 shooting of Chea Vichea were granted bail in 2008 by the Supreme Court, which cited a lack of evidence. Charges had originally been dropped on these grounds but were reinstated after an investigating judge was replaced.
Similarly, the man accused of slaying FTU leader Ros Sovannareth protested his indictment, claiming he was in Siem Reap province at the time, and was later released.
Judge Sakhorn said the verdict would be handed down on July 1.