A newspaper publisher charged with murdering his friend in Phnom Penh last year told the municipal court on Thursday that his confession to military police was obtained through torture, but the presiding judge argued that such a claim would have “broken out” in the media if true.
Som Kimsean, 38, publisher of the obscure Sovan Nokor newspaper, was charged with premeditated murder in May 2015 after he allegedly admitted, under military police questioning, to strangling Srun Sopheak and pawning the victim’s car for $5,000.
During his trial on Thursday, Mr. Kimsean pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, admitting only to helping two other suspects—both still at large—pawn the vehicle.
“I wish to deny everything because these answers were not the truth,” he said after a court clerk read out his initial confession.
“They beat me,” he said of the military police who interrogated him.
According to his confession, Mr. Kimsean met with the two accomplices and Srun Sopheak on May 22 for an evening of drinking and karaoke, during which the other men slipped sleeping pills into the victim’s drink. The four then got into the victim’s Toyota Camry and Mr. Kimsean strangled Srun Sopheak with the help of another man.
The victim’s body was found in a pile of trash in Sen Sok district the next day, according to police, and Mr. Kimsean was linked to the crime after pawning the Toyota at a shop near the Vietnamese border in Kandal province.
Asked by Presiding Judge Ly Lipmeng on Thursday why he was denying his previous testimony, Mr. Kimsean said he had been forced to confess following five days in military police detention, during which he was not allowed to speak with his lawyer or family.
Judge Lipmeng dismissed his argument.
“If you were tortured, as you say, the news would have broken out—it would not wait until today,” he said. “You are a newspaper publisher…. What you said is not reasonable.”
A verdict is due on July 1.