Cambodian Supreme Court will review trade union leader’s murder

Two men convicted of the murder of trade union activist Chea Vichea in Cambodia after a seriously flawed criminal investigation and a grossly unfair trial will have their case heard by the country’s Supreme Court on 31 December.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were sentenced to 20 years for Chea Vichea’s murder. However, their detention and trial were plagued with human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment and deeply flawed court proceedings that relied on unfounded and inadmissible evidence.

“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.

The organisation has long argued that the true perpetrators of the murder remain at large. The Free Trade Union (FTU), of which Chea Vichea was President, has also repeatedly called for the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun had alibis for the time of the shooting on 22 January 2004. Instead of conducting a thorough, impartial investigation, police officers threatened and detained people who would provide these alibis, and intimidated other witnesses.

Born Samnang repeatedly stated that police beat, coerced and bribed him into making a confession. Despite this, the Municipal Court accepted the confession as a central piece of evidence on the basis of which both men were convicted.

On 1 August 2005, the Municipal Court sentenced them both to 20 years’ imprisonment for murder. On 6 April 2007, the Appeal Court upheld the decision, despite the prosecutor’s acknowledgment there was insufficient evidence.

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.

Chea Vichea was murdered on 22 January 2004 after receiving a series of death threats. He was shot dead in an assassination-style killing at a news stand in central Phnom Penh. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested shortly afterwards on suspicion of his murder.

Since Chea Vichea’s death another two FTU activists have been killed in Phnom Penh. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, FTU President at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered. Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his murder in a one-hour trial described by observers as grossly unfair.

On 24 February 2007, Hy Vuthy, FTU President at the Suntex factory, was shot dead. No one has been brought to justice for this killing, and by September 2008, a Phnom Penh court official told media that the investigation had been closed for lack of evidence.