A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 1 January 2009

Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Phnom Penh Post
20083112-hengchivoan-bs_sso_release.jpgThe Cambodian Supreme Court released the two men convicted of assassinating outspoken union leader Chea Vichea -- Born Samnang, 24, and Sok Sam Oeun, 36 -- and sent their case back to the Court of Appeal for further investigation pending a retrial, citing contradictory evidence in the prior trials.

Sok Sam Oeun’s father, Vuon Phon, told the Post, “I’m very happy and excited that my son was released with a big smile”.

The two men have been in prison for nearly five of their 20 year-sentences.

The two men’s prosecutor, Chhoun Chantha, remained adamant about their guilt, telling reporters, “It’s normal for the accused to find ways to fool the court in order for them to be released from their punishment”.

But around the courtroom, he was in the minority. When Judge Dith Monty, the court president, announced the ruling after the four-hour hearing, the audience listening to the proceedings outside the courtroom burst into applause, ecstatic that the two men would have another chance at freedom.

Though the convictions were widely and repeatedly condemned by local and international rights organisations, many were expressed surprise at the court’s announcement.

The executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, Sok Sam Oeun (no relation to the defendant) was stunned.

“I feel strange and surprised, because I never trusted the independence of the Supreme Court. I hope this means the judiciary in Cambodia is improving” he said.

Suon Seth, the executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, told the Post, “This is a day that Cambodians can be proud of the court”.

But he warned, this decision may not represent a significant change in Cambodian judiciary. “When they say they will conduct a new investigation, they will find nothing, and it will take years.”

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