Police Search For Killers of City Judge

Prime Minister Hun Sen harshly denounced the killers of a municipal court judge who was shot to death on Wednesday and urged the authorities to swiftly bring the perpetrators—and any associated “parties”—to justice.

“We condemn the hit men [of Sok Sethamony] and the parties of the hit men and strongly demand that the authorities find the killers,” Hun Sen stated in a letter given to the widow of Sok Sethamony Wednesday. “The losing of a good husband and also the losing of a good judge for our courts…will not be forgotten.”

Sok Sethamony was shot four times as he drove to work in his red-striped silver Mitsubishi Pajero on Wednesday morning. The two killers, driving a red motorbike, sped away after the shooting and are still at large.

His killing marks the second of a court official this month. Earlier, Appeals Court clerk Chhim Dara was shot to death in Russei Keo district. In a separate incident earlier this month, municipal court Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath was shot at and attacked by two men in Russei Keo district.

“We are working hard to find the gunmen, but we need to interview every witness that we have so they can lead us to the gunmen,” said Heng Pov, deputy police commissioner for Phnom Penh, who added that police have already interviewed two close aides of Sok Sethamony.

One complication with the investigation, Heng Pov said, is the enormous number of court trials Sok Sethamony has presided over.

Over the years, Sok Setha­mony had acquired many enemies because he convicted or handed down unfavorable decisions to so many people—and each of those individuals could be suspects, he said.

“Also, we are investigating Sok Sethamony’s love life, because he was naughty,” Heng Pov said, without elaborating.

In recent weeks, Heng Pov has been outspoken against the courts, and their tendency to release suspects whom Heng Pov sees as guilty.

General Khieu Sopheak, spokes­man for the Ministry of Interior, said on Wednesday that the Interior Ministry also had not identified or arrested any suspects.

As the investigation into the killing continued Wednesday, officials from the various courts and the Ministry of Justice gathered to pay respect to the fallen judge at the Phnom Penh Munici­pal Court.

“Why was Sok Sethamony shot?” asked Sor Suphary, municipal court chief judge, on Wednes­day. He speculated that the gunmen shot Sok Sethamony  for “revenge,” but offered no other details.

Justice Minister Neav Sithong declined to comment on how the killing would affect the Cambo­dian judiciary or whether or not his ministry would provide in­creased security for court officials. He would say only that no suspects have been arrested yet in the killing.

Critics, however, contend that the Sok Sethamony killing, as well as the shooting death of the appeals court clerk and even the killing of Funcinpec senior adviser Om Radsady will greatly affect the integrity of the courts as well as the upcoming national election in July.

“Many judges will be scared, their security will not be protected and their decisions on cases, especially political cases, will be influenced by that fear,” said Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cam­bodian Defenders Project. “If the man standing trial is a gangster or the leader of a kidnapping gang, the judge might not convict him and put him behind bars because he is scared.”

All candidates in the election will also look at the killings and think “if [Sok Sethamony] can be killed so easily, then so can I,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “Even high-ranking officials can be killed—they can be shot in the daytime or at night.”

(Additional reporting by David Kihara)

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.