Cambodian rights campaigners yesterday condemned the upholding of a 20-year prison sentence for two men for the 2004 murder of a prominent labor leader, saying the verdict was deeply flawed.
Chea Vichea, a vocal critic of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, was gunned down in daylight at a newstand in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh — a killing decried by activists as an attempt to silence his labor union.
Days later, Born Samnang, now 32, and Sok Sam Oeun, 43, were arrested and jailed for 20 years each in a verdict which rights groups said was based on insufficient evidence.
In 2008, the Cambodian Supreme Court provisionally released the pair and ordered a retrial. However, the Appeal Court yesterday ruled that there was sufficient proof of their guilt and confirmed the 20-year sentences.
Am Sam Ath, of local rights groups Licadho, said the pair appeared to be innocent victims.
The pair called for help from the king and Hun Sen as they were led from the court in handcuffs.
Sok Sam Oeun’s wife, Neang Heng, told reporters that her husband had been “full of hope” that he would be acquitted.
The pair’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling, which rights activists said once again failed to deliver justice.
“I am very shocked and disappointed at the lack of independence of the court and at the inability of the court to provide justice in the case,” Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said.
Police alleged at the time that the two men were promised US$5,000 to carry out the killing. The pair have denied any involvement and said they were framed by a group of police.
Former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov — who led the investigation, but was later jailed on various charges he contended were politically motivated — has also said that the two men did not kill Chea Vichea.