31 December 2008



Born Samnang (Reuters photo) and Sok Sam Oeun (AFP photo)

After nearly five years in prison, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have been released by order of Cambodia's Supreme Court. For them, the new year begins with a walk out of the prison gates and into the arms of their waiting families.

This is fantastic and astonishing news.

I have to admit that I didn't think there was much chance that the courts, which are controlled by the government and rule as they are instructed to rule, would make the right decision in this case. I've never been happier to say I was wrong.

As long as as we have been dedicated to making a film about the assassination of Chea Vichea and the framing of these two men, we have been hoping that this project would somehow contribute to justice being served, at least for Samnang and Sam Oeun.

We'll never know for sure if we deserve any credit. But human rights groups in Cambodia, such as Licadho and Adhoc, certainly do, along with groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the ILO, the ITUC, and many more. And any of you who sent e-mails and faxes to your Cambodian embassies in the days leading up to this good news.

This ruling means the Cambodian government felt the eyes of the world on it. This decision can only have came from the top, and by the top I don't mean the justices on the court. And the man at the top blinked. In effect the court's ruling represents a public admission that the case was not proven -- something that everyone watching this case already knew.

But Samnang and Sam Oeun are not in the clear. The court didn't drop the charges against them, but only sent the case back to the appeals court, and released them “under watch of the court” pending the new appeal.

Now the government faces a difficult choice. Re-convicting them in the appeals court would look very bad indeed. But clearing them would bring attention to the fact that the real killers of Chea Vichea were never identified. That's the real center of the problem in Cambodia: impunity.

It remains to be seen what will happen next. For one, we'll have to shoot a new ending to the film, and we're happy to do it!

Happy New Year to Born Samnang, to Sok Sam Oeun and to their families, and to you and yours.

News coverage:


23 December 2008


Amnesty: Dismiss the Case

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have now been imprisoned for nearly five years since their arrests for the murder of Chea Vichea in January 2004.

Amnesty International calls on Cambodian's highest court to overturn their convictions:
"The Cambodian Supreme Court must dismiss the case against both men and ensure that they are released." said Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher Brittis Edman.

Amnesty International has repeated its calls to the Cambodian authorities to conduct an impartial and effective investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea so that those responsible for it are brought to justice.

The organisation has also urged the authorities to initiate a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the conduct of the case - including allegations of torture or other ill-treatment by police during the initial interrogation of the two men, intimidation of witnesses and political interference with the judicial process.
The Supreme Court is to hear the case on Dec 31.


17 December 2008


Interview: ABC Radio Australia

The director of "Who Killed Chea Vichea?," Bradley Cox, was interviewed by Sen Lam of ABC Radio Australia about the upcoming Cambodian Supreme court review of case in which Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were convicted of Vichea's murder.

There are "way too many reasons to think that they are innocent," Cox says, "and so far the Municipal Court and the Appeals Court have decided to ignore those reasons. And I guess what people are hoping is that when it does reach the Supreme Court, that they will for the first time look seriously at some of the evidence that shows that they are innocent."

Read the article here, or listen in
Windows Media.


10 December 2008


Supreme Court sets hearing date

BREAKING NEWS: Cambodia's Supreme Court has set a date for the hearing to review Born Samnang's and Sok Sam Oeun's case, according to Cambodge Soir.

Samnang's defense lawyer submitted the case to the court a year ago.

"I do not think the decision will be different from previous courts," he said at a four-year memorial for Vichea in January.

Indeed, the choice of date doesn't bode well: December 31, when relatively few diplomats, foreign journalists and NGO workers will be in the country.

More as things develop -- if they do.

By the way, happy Human Rights Day!


09 December 2008


Garment industry layoffs

Thirty of Cambodia's garment factories have closed this year so far, according to the manufacturers' association, putting 20,000 workers out of work, the Phnom Penh Post reports.

The manufacturers attribute the closures to the US recession, but Chea Mony of the Free Trade Union says it's individual investors choosing to pull up stakes and leave Cambodia.

The Post cites Ministry of Commerce figures from 2007 of 380,000 garment workers at 319 factories, and $2.9 billion in exports.


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