Jubilation as Pair Acquitted of Union Leader’s Assassination

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the men wrongfully sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2004 murder of Free Trade Union (FTU) leader Chea Vi­chea, were exonerated Wednesday by the Supreme Court of the crime. Responding to the acquittal, Chea Vichea’s brother, Chea Mony, said the government was responsible for having orchestrated the killing of his sibling and the ensuing cover up. … Judge Pon, however, shot down hopes that the men would qualify for any compensation for their years of incarceration, citing Article 23 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and claiming that it could not be proven that the men had suffered any injury because of their wrongful, five-year detention. … Chea Vichea’s brother Chea Mony, who was elected FTU leader after his brother’s assassination, has always maintained that the two men had been made scapegoats for the murder, saying the decision to free the men means that fresh questions must be asked as to why the real killers have never been arrested, tried or sentenced. “Ten years ago, the court could not find the real murderers; this is a weakness of the government and the court,” he said. “I never thought that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were the murderers. This time, the government lost the case, because it is unable to find the real culprits, but the government is behind my brother Chea Vichea’s killing,” he said. … Mr. Sam Oeun has maintained his innocence from the start. Mr. Samnang initially confessed, but told the Supreme Court in 2008 that the confession had been false, extracted only because he was being beaten by the police who were holding him in custody. Human rights groups welcomed the decision, but insisted that a thorough investigation needs to be carried out to bring the real killers to justice. … Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Ed­ucation Center, said the opening of a fresh investigation into the kill­ing of Chea Vichea would help “combat rampant impunity in the Kingdom.” … In addition to highly suspect evidence, the case against the pair was choreographed by then-Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who would go on to become Prime Minister Hun Sen’s security adviser and an undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry. However, Heng Pov is now serving a 100-year prison sentence for a litany of crimes, including the murder of a municipal court judge. While Heng Pov was on the run from the law and hiding out in Sin­ga­pore he gave an interview with French magazine L’Express in Au­gust 2006 that spectacularly claimed the entire case against Mr. Sam­nang and Mr. Sam Oeun was fabricated by then-National Police Com­mis­sioner Hok Lundy —and that he had ordered the arrests of the men in order to appease an in­creasingly under-pressure government. …

Khy Sovuthy