Cambodian Court Releases Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, Alleged Killers of Union Boss, Chea Vichea
Cambodian Sok Sam Oeun (centre) the previously convicted murderer of prominent Cambodian labour leader Chea Vichea, is escorted by police at the Supreme court in Phnom Penh. Cambodia's highest court has provisionally released two alleged killers of Vichea and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.
(AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Cambodian prisoners Born Samnang, left, and Sok Sam Oeun, center, are paraded by police in Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008. A Cambodian highest court on Wednesday provisionally released the two believed to have been framed for murdering a prominent labor leader and government critic.
(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's highest court Wednesday provisionally released two alleged killers of a prominent labour leader and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.
Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labour union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand in January 2004.
The daylight murder shocked the country and was condemned by Cambodian and international rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence the opposition-linked workers' group.
Just days after the killing, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison.
International and local rights watchdogs had called the conviction and trial deeply flawed.
After the two men made their final appeal during a hearing Wednesday at the Supreme Court, judge Dith Monty, the court's president, dismissed the conviction, which was upheld by the Appeal Court in 2007.
"The case is a criminal one which requires more investigation," Dith Monty said, adding that to make sure the men's rights were not violated, the court had "decided to release the two suspects provisionally, but under watch of the court."
The judge also ordered the Appeal Court to retry the case, adding that the two men had to appear before the court when summoned.
The pair have denied any involvement in the killing. Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov, who led the investigation, has also said that the two did not kill Chea Vichea.
The men told the court, which was packed with diplomats, rights activists, journalists and their relatives, that they had been framed by a group of police.
"I am not the killer," said Born Samnang, asking the judges to free him.
UN rights officials, the United States and relatives of the accused welcomed the court's decision.
"It was greeted with a warm round of applause by the public, including the families of the defendants, as it truly deserves," the UN rights office said in a statement.
The UN office "hopes that this decision will set the standards for the future handling of all criminal cases by Cambodian courts," it said.
In a statement, the United States urged the Appeal Court to "take up the case expeditiously and finally resolve this matter in a way consistent with Cambodian law and international standards of due process."
"The decision to release the two on bail and return the case to the appeals court for review was a particularly auspicious way to start the new year," said the US embassy's charge d'affaires Piper Campbell.
"I am very happy and I am excited that my son can stay out of detention," said Born Samnang's mother, Nuon Kimsry.
Rights group Amnesty International last week called for the release of the pair, saying the true perpetrators remained at large.