Retired King Slams Chea Vichea Murder Verdict

Retired King Norodom Siha­nouk believes the two men convicted of killing union leader Chea Vi­chea are innocent, and has of­fered $200 to the family of each in a letter addressed to the men’s parents.

“I would like Mr Sok Sam Oeun and Mr Born Samnang and their parents to understand that Mr Sok Sam Oeun and Mr Born Samnang are not the real killers who slayed Mr Chea Vichea,” the retired King wrote in the letter dated Tuesday and posted on his Web site Wed­nesday.

Nor­o­dom Sihanouk added that he could not free the two men.

“I don’t have any power to intervene to help them,” he wrote. “I hope that, some day, the court will ack­nowledge its wrongdoing and re­lease Mr Sok Sam Oeun and Mr Born Samnang.”

The retired King also commented on the trial in the margins of a Cam­bodia Daily story published in the newspaper on Tuesday and posted on his Web site.

“This is not about real murderers,” Norodom Sihanouk wrote at one point, calling the trial a “shame for our country.”

The retired monarch also la­mented the fate of Hing Thirith, the original investigating judge on the case who was transferred to Stung Treng provincial court in March 2004 after ordering, earlier that month, the charges against the two men dropped for lack of evidence.

“A person is punished for being fair and honest,” the retired King wrote. Hing Thirith was one of several judges and prosecutors suspended earlier this year for unknown reasons.

In an interview Wednesday, relatives of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun said they plan to formally ask for King Norodom Sihamoni’s help.

“We are going to write to the King, asking for amnesty for our children,” said Vuon Phon, Sok Sam Oeun’s father.

When he was King, Norodom Sihanouk used his constitutional power to grant amnesty to numerous people-including Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Ranariddh-who were convicted of crimes.

The men’s family members visited them in prison on Wednesday morning, bringing the two men food and money. The relatives said the prisoners were not as healthy as they should be, and Vuon Phon said he feared the two may be poisoned.

“They might try to kill them to shut them up,” Vuon Phon said. “Sok Sam Oeun sent a message to the UN and other [NGOs] to watch his health.”

The family members said both men reported that since Monday’s trial, they had not been physically harmed.

When asked whether his faith in the judicial system had been shaken by the trial, Vuon Phon said the courts have always been corrupt because of their political nature. Unless things change, he added, any Cambodian may suffer the same fate. “It could be myself, it could be you,” he said.

After being told of the retired King’s letter, Born Samnang’s mother, Nun Kimsrei, said she had mixed feelings.

“I’m so happy with the donation but regret that he said he had no power,” she said. “I think what he’s saying is correct because my son is innocent, he is not a killer.”

Cambodian Defenders Project lawyer Chum Sovannaly, who represented Born Samnang during Monday’s trial, also appealed to King Sihamoni for help.

“I would like to ask the King to grant amnesty to my client who is an innocent person,” he said, though no formal appeal or amnesty request had been sent yet.

An international human rights group and two garment workers’ unions, including the Free Trade Union of which Chea Vichea was president up until his death, added their voices to a long chorus of groups that have condemned the trial.

“The trial was unjust, insulted the spirit of Chea Vichea, and allowed the killer to mock the head of the Royal Government,” the Free Trade Union said in a statement Wednesday. “In the courtroom we saw the judge was not concerned, was not interested,” in finding the truth.

“All of this is of great doubt,” the statement said. “The Free Trade Union of Cambodia would like to deny that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were the real killers of Chea Vichea, and would like to appeal to the government to find the real killers.”

The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation also released a statement calling upon Prime Minister Hun Sen to order an enquiry into the handling of the case.

“From start to finish, the whole process has been deeply flawed,” the statement said, adding it casts Cambodia in a bad light as it tries to change its image.

The federation represents 10 million workers from 216 trade unions in 106 countries.

A spokesperson of New York-based Human Rights Watch also condemned the trial and said the outcome does not bode well for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

“This was another test of the Cambodian judiciary, in which once again it failed miserably,” the spokesperson said. “If the judge doesn’t have the freedom and confidence to judge a case on its facts, what does this say for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which is to be held within the Cambodian court system?”

 

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