In the week since police detained two women who had given alibis for a suspect in the killing of union leader Chea Vichea, six more people have told rights workers that the second suspect, Sok Sam Oeun, was also not at the scene of the Jan 22 shooting.
The six are in hiding, bringing the total number of people providing alibis for the two suspects who have now gone underground out of fear for their safety, to eight, a human rights investigator said Tuesday.
Rights workers said last week that, after police released Vieng Thi Hong, the 20-year-old girlfriend of suspect Born Samnang, and her mother, who also testified to Born Samnang’s innocence, they were taken to an undisclosed location for their security.
According to a file compiled by local rights group Adhoc, numerous witnesses have testified that Sok Sam Oeun, 36, was at a house in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district when the union leader and opposition party activist was slain at a newsstand near Wat Langka in Chamkar Mon district.
“There are many people who saw him sleeping, wearing a krama in the hammock. It looked like he had just awoken. They concluded that he had not gone anywhere at the time” of the murder, according to the Adhoc file, a copy of which was obtained on Tuesday.
Below the entry was a footnote that said the witnesses were worried and hesitant to come forward with this information.
A statement given by an alleged witness to Sok Sam Oeun’s Jan 22 whereabouts also appealed in the file to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “please protect my safety and that of my whole family.”
A rights worker said that the witness, who could only account for Sok Sam Oeun a few hours after the killing, had thumb printed the statement for fear police would coerce him to retract the statement.
The Adhoc file also alleged that, while police were bringing Vieng Thi Hong to Phnom Penh from her mother’s village in Prey Veng province, they had instructed her how to testify.
“If you don’t follow, you will be sorry,” the file reported her quoting the officers.
The previous day, Vieng Thi Hong and her mother had told reporters that Born Samnang had arrived in Village 6, near the Neak Leoung ferry crossing, on Jan 20 to celebrate Chinese New Year. The two women and numerous neighbors said he did not leave the village until police took him away in the early hours of Jan 27.
The file also included the allegation that police had visited the home of Vieng Thi Hong’s mother and threatened the women.
It reported an officer telling them, “If you don’t love me, I will kill you.”
Police officials have repeatedly denied acts of intimidation and coercion.
Last Wednesday Tuol Kok district police arrested Suong Sokha, 30, who had tried to assist rights investigators and reporters in locating an alibi for Sok Sam Oeun.
Suong Sokha, who had previously been arrested with Sok Sam Oeun on Jan 28 as a suspect in the Chea Vichea killing, was charged with robbery.