Article

Campaign launched in Cambodia to free innocent men wrongly convicted of murder

Published on January 29, 2007
Monks blessed billboards in a small ceremony to launch a campaign to support prisoner Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang

Update: On December 31, 2008 Cambodia's Supreme Court ordered the release on bail of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, pending further investigation and a re-trial of them by the lower-level Appeal Court. The Supreme Court ruled that there were gaps in the investigation of the case and therefore the Appeal Court should not have upheld their convictions. The Supreme Court's decision was announced before a courtroom packed with family and friends of the two men, as well as journalists and foreign diplomats. By the end of the day, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun - who had been in prison for a total of 1,799 days since their arrest in January 2004 - had been released from Phnom Penh's PJ Prison and were reunited with their families.

Update: On April 12th, 2007, a panel of three judges presided by judge Saly Theara upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against the two innocent men Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun. (Press Release: "Unjust verdict of Appeal Court on Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun case")

January 28, 2007 marked three years or 1,096 days - that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have spent in prison since their arrests for the assassination of prominent trade unionist Chea Vichea. One day in prison for an innocent man is too long; both men have spent the last three years in prison for a crime that there is considerable evidence they did not commit. To mark the anniversary of their arrests, Cambodian NGOs and trade unions launched a public campaign that will continue until their release from prison.

The campaign, launched at LICADHO's offices by family members of the two men, monks, human rights workers and others, involves erecting signboards outside NGO and union offices in Phnom Penh displaying photos of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun under the slogan "They Need Justice". The signboards feature counters that will be updated daily to show the total number of days that the two men have been imprisoned. The campaign also includes regular newspaper advertisements similar to the signboards.

"The injustice suffered by these two men has gone on far too long. The courts must set them free, so that they can return to their families and their normal lives," said Thun Saray, President of ADHOC.

"We are publicly counting the days that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are in prison, just like they must be counting every single day of their unjust imprisonment," said Kek Galabru, President of LICADHO. "Our campaign will continue until the day justice is delivered to them and they are released."

Many individuals including former King Norodom Sihanouk, Chea Vichea's family, and the main eyewitness to the murder (read her statement translated in english) have declared that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are innocent. An investigating judge in the case who initially dropped the murder charges against the two men was quickly disciplined for unspecified judicial mistakes and transferred from his position, while the charges were reinstated. In an October 2005 trial widely criticized for being unfair, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were convicted of the murder and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The two men have been waiting for 18 months since then for the Court of Appeal to review their case.

The last opportunity for justice that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun saw was on October 6, 2006 when the Court of Appeal was set to hear their appeals against the convictions. However the hearing was abruptly cancelled at the last minute because one of three judges reportedly had diarrhea.

"We urge the Court of Appeal to urgently set a new hearing date as soon as possible, and to carefully consider all the available evidence in this case,"said Kong Pisey, Acting Director of CDP representing both men. "We believe that an impartial examination of all the facts will lead to the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun."

"The longer that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun spend in prison, the more damage that is done to the reputation of the Cambodian justice system," said Thun Saray of ADHOC. "The Court of Appeal has an opportunity to put an end to this, and to finally deliver justice to these two men and their families."

Chronology of Events


22 Jan 0412 Apr 07
 January 22, 2004 - Chea Vichea assassinated January 28, 2004 - Born Samnnag and Sok Sam Oeun arrested. The next day, they are paraded by police at a televised press conference. Both emotionally proclaim their innocence, and Born Samnang alleges that the police beat him into confessing to the murder March 19, 2004 - Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Heng Thirith dismisses case for lack of evidence March 23, 2004 - Judge Heng Thirith is removed from his position at the municipal court for unspecified judicial mistakes, and later transferred to be a judge in remote Stung Treng province June 1, 2004 - Appeal Court Presiding Judge Thou Mony overturns Judge Heng Thirith's decision and orders that the murder charges be reinstated August 1, 2005 - Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by Judge Kong Seth in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The trial draws a storm of criticism for failing to meet international fair trial standards. The two men immediately file appeals against their convictions August 1, 2006 - One year anniversary of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun's conviction. Supporters and family members who gather in front of PJ (prison) to show their support for the two men are dispersed by riot police August 10, 2006 - Va Sothy, the key eyewitness to the assassination of Chea Vichea who fled Cambodia fearing for her own safety, signs a notarized statement in Thailand stating that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were not the real killers who she saw October 6, 2006 - Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun's appeal hearing is cancelled at the last minute after one of three judges reportedly falls suddenly ill. Observers question why a substitute judge was not assigned, so that the hearing could have continued January 28, 2007 - Three year anniversary of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun's arrest and 1096th day in prison. CHRAC begins continuous public campaign for their release April 12, 2007 - A panel of three judges presided by Judge Saly Theara upheld an unjust 20 years prison sentence against the two innocent men Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun

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