Human rights workers have questioned the Battambang Provincial Court’s acquittal of seven Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials who were found guilty in December of taking bribes to release criminals but were cleared at their retrial on Friday.
The acquittal rendered by Presiding Judge Ith Samphors defeated Prime Minister Hun Sen’s promise to eliminate corruption with an “iron fist,” rights workers said on Sunday.
“People do not trust the court,” said Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho.
“Some court decisions are proper, but people must be suspicious of this decision because the person who gave the bribe was found but the person who received the bribe could not be found,” she said.
At the original trial of the seven officials in December, three people were convicted of paying bribes and sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Kek Galabru said the government needs a system to enforce consistent and fair judicial decisions—not just Hun Sen’s one-man campaigns to end corruption.
Adhoc investigator Chan Sovet also blasted the acquittal of the court officials, saying it negated Hun Sen’s announced plans to end corruption in the courts.
In December, Battambang court presiding judge Chhay Kong found the three judges and two deputy prosecutors guilty of taking bribes. Court clerks Ly Meng and Sang Satny were also found guilty of conspiracy.
The prosecution of the seven, who were each sentenced to four years in prison, followed Hun Sen’s highly publicized “iron fist” campaign to reform the country’s corruption-mired judiciary.
Lawyers who attended Friday’s trial said the original prosecution lacked evidence.
“The judge’s decision was fair and independent—there was no evidence to convict me,” suspended judge Ham Mengse said of the verdict on Sunday.
Chum Sovannaly, lawyer to fired deputy prosecutor Siem Sok Aun, also said that Ith Samphors’ decision was just. “There must be hard evidence to convict anyone,” he said.