Supporters of the two men jailed for the 2004 killing of union leader Chea Vichea gathered in Phnom Penh on Monday to mark the 1,000th day that the pair have spent in detention and to call for their release.
Some 70 people, including rights workers and the parents and relatives of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, congregated at Wat Svay Popey on Sothearos Boulevard to pray for the pair.
“These two men, who no one believes are guilty, have already lost 1,000 days of their lives locked up behind bars,” Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said in a statement. “They must be set free, so they can return to their families and to their normal lives,” she added.
The ceremony was organized by Licadho, and the prayers were led by monks at the pagoda.
Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang were arrested on Jan 28, 2004, days after Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea was gunned down in an execution-style hit at a Phnom Penh newsstand.
London-based rights group Amnesty International has said the killing was politically motivated and that the jailed men are innocent.
Government officials have denied the allegation, saying Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun may have been hired by a garment factory owner who had a problem with the activities of Cambodia’s most outspoken union leader.
Sok Sam Oeun’s father Vuong Phun, who was carrying a large photo of his son, said he gathered 42 of his relatives to make the journey from Takeo province to attend Monday’s ceremony.
“I invited my family and relatives to pray with the Buddhist monks to have my son released soon,” he said. “I also appeal to the Appeals Court to please set a hearing soon. My son is not a killer.”
Born Samnang’s mother Nguon Kimsry appealed to retired King Norodom Sihanouk and King Norodom Sihamoni to help free her son.
“I dreamed and counted every day and night and now I’ve counted to 1,000 days since my son was arrested,” she said. “I am suffering. It is very long.”
The Appeals Court was set to hear Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang’s appeal on Oct 6, but the long-awaited hearing was cancelled because Samreth Sophal, one of the three Appeals Court judges that reviews cases, called in sick with diarrhea.
Appeals Court Judge Thou Mony said on Monday that Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang’s appeal hearing would take place “soon,” though he declined to say when. He referred further questions to Judge Saly Theara.
Saly Theara and Judge Samreth Sophal both refused to comment on the case. An assistant to Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said he was in China and was unavailable for comment.
Chea Mony, brother of Chea Vichea and current president of the FTU, did not attend the event but said by telephone that the two men were innocent.
“If the government wants to project a good image before the international community they should release Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the case was under consideration by the Appeals Court and declined comment.
Cambodian Defender’s Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun-who is not related to his client of the same name-said his NGO will submit a motion to the Appeals Court requesting an immediate hearing.
But he added that he had no idea how long it would take for the courts to set a new date for the two men, as there is no time limit for the Appeals Court to hear cases.