Two men wrongfully convicted in Cambodia of the murder of trade union leader Chea Vichea, have been released on bail after nearly five years in prison. After a seriously flawed legal process, their case was finally heard by the country’s Supreme Court on 31 December.
According to reports from court monitors and the press, the Court’s president dismissed the conviction and ordered that the Appeal Court retry the case.
“The Supreme Court decision was a welcome step towards justice. It is now crucial that the Appeal Court urgently launches an impartial and effective reinvestigation, so that the true perpetrators of the murder are found and brought to justice,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher.
Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested on suspicion of murder shortly after Chea Vichea was shot dead in an assassination-style killing at a news stand in central Phnom Penh on 22 January 2004.
Both men were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment despite having alibis for the time of the shooting. Their detention and trial were plagued with human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment.
Police failed to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation and deeply flawed court proceedings relied on unfounded and inadmissible evidence.
The Appeal Court upheld the conviction on 6 April 2007, despite the prosecutor’s acknowledgment that there was insufficient evidence.
Amnesty International 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.
“There is a pressing need for a long over-due investigation into the handling of the case, including allegations of police torture, intimidation of witnesses and political interference with the judicial process”, said Brittis Edman.