Members of the press corps groused outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Thursday morning, cross over being barred from the trial of Nhim Sophea, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew.
Some said they couldn’t remember a case receiving such secretive and suspicious treatment.
But, for those reporters who gathered at a back window to eavesdrop on the proceedings, the closing argument for the defense provided some mirth.
Attorney Dy Borima urged the presiding judge, Tan Senarong, to free his client, so that Nhim Sophea might “have the chance to study in order to develop our country” and “share his knowledge with the next generation.”
Few journalists kept a straight face.
Nhim Sophea, 22, was on trial for involuntary manslaughter, a charge the court had changed mysteriously from a previous charge of voluntary manslaughter.
He was sentenced to serve one and one half years of a three-year sentence, and five subsequent years of probation. A man named Sam Doeun was convicted in absentia of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years.
Penal Police Chief Reach Sokhon, who headed the investigation into the Oct 27 car collision and shooting from which the charges stemmed, confirmed Sunday that Sam Doeun had never been on the police’s list of suspects.
Reach Sokhon also said that the court had not asked him to arrest Sam Doeun since delivering the conviction.
He added that he did not know why the court had not discussed the other four suspects for whom it had issued warrants—all young men of privilege.
On Sunday, students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh campus said they were puzzled about how the court dealt with Nhim Sophea’s case.
A 25-year-old student, who identified himself as Prak, said he too had been amused by Dy Borima’s suggestion that Nhim Sophea could bolster Cambodia’s growth.
“How can a criminal be a trainer? How can Nhim Sophea develop the country?” he asked.
“It is my personal opinion that Nhim Sophea cannot change his attitude to become a good person because he has been living in power too long and his acts are always in conflict with the law.”
Sok Pisith, a 20-year-old student, said there was no way Nhim Sophea could have been tried fairly.
“Because he is the nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, it is difficult for the court to try him. When someone hears ‘Hun Sen,’ they think ‘powerful man,’” he said.
Sao Bunchanroth, 20, said she was disappointed by the ruling. “The court verdict of Nhim Sophea’s case could encourage the other children of powerful officials to commit crimes,” she said.
Chum Mony, 22, agreed. “I think he should be punished for at least 15 years in prison,” he said.
Dy Borima declined to comment Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)