Two weeks after the release of three men accused in the murder last year of Chan Sophal, a former commune police chief in Kompong Cham province, police say they remain baffled by the decision as his wife and three children are staying in Phnom Penh out of fear for their safety.
“I am really scared, I dare not live in my house any more because the [former] suspects are out of prison,” said Chan Sophal’s wife, Mut Sinoun, on Sunday. “I am concerned they will take revenge on my family.”
Chan Sophal, who was the chief of police in Srei Santhor district’s Svay Por commune, disappeared on June 21 last year. On July 11, his decomposed body was found by villagers in an area known for rampant illegal fishing.
Four days later, police arrested Soy Soeun, 50; Hum Hoeun, 43; and Pho Pos, 44, all residents of Svar Por commune who police said Mr. Sophal had been investigating for illegal fishing. A fourth suspect, Pol Sat, 44, was charged in absentia.
According to provincial police chief Ben Rath, presiding Judge Hai Naiheng dropped murder charges against the three detained defendants at a hearing on September 10, despite evidence collected by police including confessions from Mr. Soeun, Mr. Hoeun and Mr. Pos.
Brigadier General Rath said Mr. Sat, who remains at large and is believed to have fled to Thailand, was sentenced to life imprisonment for premeditated murder.
“That guy [Mr. Sat] is the killer and the others are accomplices,” Brig. Gen. Rath said, adding that provincial prosecutor Huot Vuthy had appealed the decision.
“I am concerned that they will cause more trouble,” he added.
Court officials could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Sinoun, Chan Sophal’s wife, said the release of the men had sown fear in the area.
“Me and the people in the village are really disappointed because the court released the killers,” she said. “It is an injustice.”
Sam Un, 41, Mr. Sophal’s brother-in-law, said he was frightened now that the court had released the three men.
“I do not understand, because the police worked hard to arrest the suspects but the court released them,” he said.
“The suspect’s houses are nearby my house and I am also scared because they already dared to kill a police chief, so how about the local people?”