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:


Congratulations and thank you for posting this news! Those of us who have come up against the wall of impunity in Cambodia know what a miracle this is. I hope this is the beginning of the end for the impenetrable wall of impunity in Cambodia. Good Work and blessing for Licado, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and all the rest.

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