Local human rights groups expressed support and concern Thursday for a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge, whose removal was ordered Monday by the country’s highest legal body.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 17 NGOs, praised investigating Judge Hing Thirith for dismissing charges against two suspects in the Jan 22 killing of union leader Chea Vichea because of a lack of evidence.
“Hing Thirith also noted irregularities in supposed confessions made in the case, and CHRAC[’s] investigation indicated major differences between witness testimony and these supposed confessions,” according to the statement.
CHRAC called the judge’s Friday ruling a “step towards the independence of the judiciary.”
On Monday, a deputy prosecutor appealed Hing Thirith’s ruling. The same day, the Supreme Council of Magistracy decided in a meeting to remove him from the Municipal Court.
Hing Thirith said Wednesday that, in dropping the charges against the accused killers, he had defied orders from a powerful government official who wanted the suspects to be tried. He called his removal “political..”
On Thursday, Hing Thirith went on Beehive Radio and bemoaned corruption and interference in the judiciary.
The Supreme Council also dismissed Municipal Court investigating Judge Oun Bunna on Monday. Oun Bunna has said he will not contest his removal until it is made official by royal decree.
Om Yentieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, declined to comment Thursday on the reported removal of the two judges.
“It is not up to the government to remove or appoint the judges. It is the Supreme Council of Magistracy’s job. The government just tries to implement judicial reform by training the judges,” he said.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights also lauded Hing Thirith’s actions and called on all levels of the judiciary to “find justice for the innocent.”
“I am very concerned about the safety and the loss of the position of the investigating judge, who made his decision based on law and independence,” CCHR Director Kem Sokha said in a statement Thursday.
The Cambodian Watchdog Council, a collective of student groups and labor unions aligned with the Sam Rainsy Party, issued two strongly worded statements, supporting Hing Thirith and condemning the government.
“The government did not arrest the real perpetrators [of Chea Vichea’s murder], but arrested fake suspects for its political interests, to divert the attention of the national and international community,” it said.
The Watchdog Council also expressed concern for Hing Thirith’s safety and called on the US Embassy, the UN and local and international organizations to “intervene and watch over his safety.”