Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced a 22-year-old RCAF paratrooper to 15 years in prison for the 2004 killing of Free Trade Union representative Ros Sovannareth.
Thach Saveth, also known as Chan Sopheak, was convicted of the killing by Judge Sao Meach after a trial in which no witnesses testified.
Ros Sovannareth was gunned-down at the intersection of Kampuchea Krom and Russian boulevards on May 7, 2004, just months after FTU President Chea Vichea was fatally shot at a Phnom Penh newsstand.
During his trial, the defendant, who hails from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, denied the charges, saying he was in Siem Reap province at the time of the killing.
“I don’t know anything about this, please find justice for me,” Thach Saveth said in court. Two witnesses called to corroborate Thach Saveth’s alibi were rejected by the judge. Sao Meach said he made the decision because they were relatives of the accused.
Prosecutor Siem Sok Aun said, “the suspect denied the charge since his arrest… He is a paratrooper so he is brave and skillful using a gun.”
Defense Lawyer Seng Sokhim called the verdict an injustice.
“There is not enough evidence…. He was not present at the killing scene,” he said, adding that police took witnesses’ statements without getting their thumbprints.
“None of the [prosecution’s] witnesses appeared at the trial,” he added.
Ros Sovannareth was an outspoken critic of the government and many in the labor movement have said that his killing, along with the killing of Chea Vichea, have had a chilling effect on independent union activity in the country.
Ros Sovannareth’s wife, Roeun Yarann, who has filed a $30,000 lawsuit against Thach Saveth, did not appear in court.