The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday convicted seven people—five in absentia—for the beating deaths of two teen-age boys in one of the few mob killing trials in the country’s history.
The seven were convicted of voluntary manslaughter under Untac Article 32 for the killing of 17 year-old Huong Kim Yeang and 16 year-old Vann Samdy. The court sentenced the six men to serve 15 years in prison and one woman to serve 12 years.
The court also ordered all of those convicted to pay $5,000 to each of the victim’s families.
“The court’s decision is unfair,” said Long Nara, who represented Suong Sovann and his wife Em Sokha, the only two accused who stood trial. “If [Suong Sovann and Em Sokha] had money, the court would have dropped the charges. But they are poor.”
The courts have not yet issued arrest warrants for the five men convicted in absentia.
The case stems from a Dec 31, 2001, incident in Russei Keo district where a mob of about 70 people beat Huong Kim Yeang and Vann Samdy to death after they were accused of stealing a motorcycle. The accusations against the two victims, however, appear to have stemmed from a personal dispute rather than a robbery.
According to testimony and court statements, the two victims were involved in a fight with the son of Suong Sovann and Em Sokha. The parents went to where the children were fighting and allegedly shouted loudly and repeatedly that Kim Yeang and Vann Samdy had stolen a motorcycle.
Villagers heard the accusations and soon closed in on the two teens.
“I did not join in the mob killing and I did not yell out ‘thief!,’” Suong Sovann claimed during the trial on Monday. Em Sokha also disputed the charges against her.
Only four people—Em Sokha, Suong Sovann, and the mothers of the two victims—testified at the trial. All the evidence against the accused came from written witness statements that were read by court officials.
Most of those statements were from the men who were convicted in absentia, including three brothers—Kea Sokun, Kea Sophea and Kea Kim—who have all denied taking part in the killing.
The strongest testimony came from two village officials, Se Sophal and Ouk Vesna, who in statements read by the court said that they saw the seven people convicted take part in the killings.
Recently, mob killings—once a common form of extrajudicial justice—have again come to the attention of human rights groups after a period of decline. The UN human rights office released a report in June documenting about 65 mob killings since mid-1999. The report also blasted the authorities for not adequately dealing with mob violence.