25 September 2013


Final verdict in case of Vichea 'killers'

Almost ten years after the murder of Chea Vichea, the two men featured in Who Killed Chea Vichea? went to Cambodia's Supreme Court on Wednesday for their final appeal.

The presiding judge acknowledged that the two had no connection to the crime, saying, “We have no evidence to say that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were guilty ... Furthermore, the two people could not have been present at the scene, as they were both in the provinces.” (Phnom Penh Post) This is exactly what we proved in Who Killed Chea Vichea?.

The result? The court has dropped all charges and ordered their immediate release from prison.

Listen: Bradley Cox commentary
(ABC Australia radio interview)

This ruling is very welcome news. But there is still no reason to conclude that the court’s decision demonstrates judicial independence.

In the wake of the July elections, the government’s legitimacy is on the brink of collapse. Despite tilting the playing field steeply to its advantage, the ruling party was able to claim only a narrow victory, and that claim is hotly contested. Suddenly both the people of Cambodia and the international donor community see that Hun Sen will not rule forever, and perhaps not even for long. Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party are now engaged in a desperate effort to improve their image. Meanwhile as far as we can tell the Supreme Court hearing was scheduled only after the election. So the release of Samnang and Sok Oeun may signal desperation, but it is not evidence of actual judicial reform.

Read: Commentary from
Human Rights Watch

• If Cambodia's judicial system were independent, the prison doors would open too for land-rights activist Yorm Bopha and others now imprisoned for challenging official abuses.

• If Cambodia's judicial system were independent, we would see a serious investigation into who killed Chea Vichea, instead of the decade-long charade during which the courts did practically nothing more than investigate and imprison two innocent men who knew nothing about it.

• If Cambodia's judicial system were independent, we would see investigations and prosecutions of all of those who worked together to frame Samnang and Sam Oeun — those who manufactured evidence, those who lied in sworn testimony, those who extracted Samnang’s confession by threats and torture, who cost two innocent men five years of their lives.

Just one example: If you’ve seen Who Killed Chea Vichea? you know that the police took Samnang to the place where the gun was hidden. The court has now implicitly acknowledged that he could not have known where that was. The police knew, because they were working with those who killed Vichea. Today’s ruling was an admission of all this.

But most important today — even if the court’s ruling is part of a public relations effort — is to join Samnang and Sam Oeun and their families and celebrate their freedom!

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