Nephew Convicted in Slaying of Activist

The Kompong Speu provincial court drew heavy criticism Mon­day after it convicted a man of ac­cidentally shooting to death a Sam Rainsy Party deputy commune chief, with the lawyer for the defendant claiming that the judge attempted to influence the outcome before the trial.

Kompong Speu court Judge Phong Samon found Him Vuthea guilty on Monday of accidentally killing his uncle, Tit Keo Mony­roath, a Sam Rainsy Party deputy commune chief in Sambo commune, Samraong Tong district. Him Vuthea was sentenced to two years in jail, with credit for six months served.

“The judge called me to meet with him and tried to persuade my client to confess to the shooting before the trial even started,” said Hong Kim Suon, the Cambo­dia Defenders Project lawyer representing Him Vuthea, on Mon­day. “[Phong Samon] told me that if Him Vuthea confessed to the shooting, he would get a small­er sentence.”

Months before the trial started, Him Vuthea had confessed to po­lice and reporters that he had ac­cidentally shot Tit Keo Mony­roath with an AK-47 as they drove through Sambo commune on the night of Nov 16.

During his trial Friday, however, Him Vuthea recanted the confession and claimed that his uncle —one of the highest-ranking commune officials of any party killed since the February 2002 commune elections—was the victim of an ambush involving at least two gunmen.

“The judge wanted my client to confess to the killing,” Hong Kim Suon said, adding that he had filed an appeal Monday. “The judge had convicted him before the trial started.”

Phong Samon denied that he had met with Hong Kim Suon be­fore the trial started or that he had attempted to influence Him Vuthea into confessing.

“I had never negotiated or coordinated a verdict before the trial —I cannot do that before the trial,” Phong Samon said.

During the opening of the trial Friday, however, Phong Samon addressed Him Vuthea, saying that the court already had enough evidence to convict him of the shooting.

“If you confess or not is your right, but the ballistic test on the shells prove that there was no assailant,” Phong Samon said Fri­day during the trial. “There is enough evidence to prove that you had committed the crime.”

More than 100 villagers came to the Kompong Speu Court­house on Monday to hear the de­livery of the verdict, including Tit Keo Monyroath’s widow, Sieng Phally.

“I just want my nephew back home,” she said after the trial.

Kem Sokha, director of the Cam­bodian Center for Human Rights, also criticized the trial proceedings.

“A serious case such as this, which involves the fatal shooting of a well-known political party activist, should not be resolved on the basis of a forced confession,” he said in a statement released Monday. “The authorities must apply justice fairly, transparently and within the boundaries of the law.”

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