Thach Saveth Still in Prison After Release Order

Although Thach Saveth won his nearly seven-year-old legal battle on Wednesday, the 28-year-old accused of killing a union leader in 2004 remained behind bars yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Pri­son despite a Supreme Court or­der for his release.

Paperwork that would grant the former paratrooper’s freedom was still being reviewed and awaiting the signature of Su­preme Court Prosecutor Gen­eral Chea Leang, a court clerk and NGO workers said. Ms Leang has requested that a full judgment be submitted to her office before she allows prison officials to release Mr Saveth, they added.

Chheang Vantha, the Supreme Court clerk, said that he had al­ready submitted a two-page sum­mary of the ruling to Ms Leang, but he said that she had requested that a complete version be gi­ven to her.

Mr Vantha said yesterday afternoon he had prepared the seven-page version, which contains the decisions of Phnom Penh Muni-cipal Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, and was reviewing it. He said he would likely submit the documents to her office today.

“I don’t know why Chea Leang needs a full verdict,” he said. “The decision is in Chea Leang’s hands.”

Ms Leang, who also serves as co-prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, could not be reach­ed yesterday.

Some rights workers criticized the delay, especially since Mr Saveth has already served nearly half of a 15-year prison sentence for the murder Free Trade Union leader Ros Sovannareth that many observers have decried as unjust.

“It’s unfair already for him,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center.

He said the prosecutor general must sign the verdict before the document can be sent to the Interior Ministry’s department of prisons. Once there, it must collect the department director’s signature and then be delivered to the prison. Until that happens, he said, Mr Saveth cannot be released.

Mr Tola noted that, in that case of Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang, the pair jailed but later freed over the 2004 killing of FTU president Chea Vichea, a summary verdict was used for their release and the pair was discharged the same day.

The Supreme Court granted bail to Mr Saveth and ordered the Court of Appeal to reinvestigate the case. Ros Sovannareth was gunned down the evening of May 7, 2004, while riding his motorbike home.

Reading the judgment, Judge Khim Pon said the court had found that the evidence against the accused, based solely on statements from witnesses, was wanting.

The court’s ruling was similar to its December 2008 decision in the case of Mr Sam Oeun and Mr Samnang. In that case, the court acknowledged the lack of evidence against them and the need for further investigation and ordered their release on bail.

Mong Kim Heng, director of Prey Sar Prison, confirmed that Mr Saveth remained in custody there late yesterday. He said he had not yet received any documents authorizing release.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project and who is of no relation to the defendant from the Chea Vichea case, said when it came to granting court-ordered release, the judicial system should avoid getting bogged down by bureaucratic formalities.

“After the court decided to release like that, he should be released on the spot,” he said.

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