Supporters Demand Freedom for Scapegoats convicted of Chea Vichea's murderPublished on August 1, 2006
On August 1, 2006 at 11:00am approximately 80 family members, friends, monks, union workers and NGO workers, gathered in front of the Police Judicial (PJ) Prison to call for the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun. August 1 marks the one year anniversary of their conviction at what was widely considered a show trial for the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea.
Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested on 27 and 28 January 2004 for Chea Vichea's assassination which occurred on the morning of January 22, 2004 at a roadside newsstand in Phnom Penh near Wat Lenka. On March 19, 2004 Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Heng Thirith initially dismissed charges against the two based on the lack of evidence and credibility of the police investigation. However less than two weeks later Judge Heng Thirith was removed from the court and the decision was overturned by Appeal Court Judge Thou Mony.
On August 1, 2005, after spending a year and a half in pre-trial detention, the two men were convicted of murder and were each sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The case was fraught with irregularities in legal procedure and was condemned by human rights groups, Cambodian and international trade unions, and the UN for lacking any credible evidence linking the two men to Chea Vichea's death. At the trial, witness testimony that placed one of the men outside Phnom Penh at the time of the shooting was also dismissed by the court.
To mark the first anniversary supporters had aimed to gather peacefully out side PJ to release 100 sparrows and two white pigeons and to display banners proclaiming the two men's innocence and demanding their freedom. However, shortly after the supporters had gathered, around 20 police armed with assault rifles, electric batons, tear gas and riot shields dispersed the crowd and pushed the people away from PJ. At the time no reason was given for why the supporters could not gather there.
The police continually threatened the supporters with violence. The supporters eventually gathered at Wat Koh pagoda two blocks away from PJ. At Wat Koh families of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were able to receive a blessing from monks. They then displayed their banners and released the 100 birds and two white pigeons, symbolizing the demand of freedom for Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun. Later Sok Sam Oeun's father addressed the media saying, "I plead with the government to release my son. The court has wrongly convicted him."
Local and international human rights groups and individuals including retired King Norodom Sihanouk have repeatedly stated that the two men were not the real killers of Chea Vichea. The family of Chea Vichea has also publicly denounced the trial and conviction of the two men and has refused to accept the USD$5,000 compensation that the court ordered the two men to pay. Family members and human rights groups are now renewing their appeal to the His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni to grant Royal Amnesty to Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.