Friday, November 01, 2013

Cambodia's murder mystery: Who killed Vichea?

Mourners gather at the body of Chea Vichea, president
of Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers [AP]
The killers of a trade union leader remain at large, amid charges that the country's justice system fosters impunity.

By Simon Marks Oct 31, 2013
Source: Al Jazeera

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Who killed Chea Vichea? Sok Sam Oeun, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court and released from jail last month for the crime, is perplexed when asked the question.

"I did all this prison time, but I don't know who exactly killed him," he said from his family home in Takeo province, where he now lives with his wife and children. "I want to sell construction materials, but I don't know who is going to help me. When you don't have money you can't think of anything."

Little has changed at the newspaper stands where Vichea - the outspoken, captivating and much-adored leader of the Free Trade Union - was gunned down in broad daylight on January 22, 2004. Vendors sit on deck chairs selling stationery and newspapers to students and passers-by from rundown kiosks.

The same can be said for justice in what has become perhaps the most significant unsolved lawsuit in Cambodia's 20 years of democracy. The killers have remained at large ever since shooting Vichea at point-blank range outside Phnom Penh's Wat Lanka pagoda from a Honda motorcycle.

The case was thrust back into the media spotlight last month when the Supreme Court decided to acquit Sam Oeun and Born Samnang for Vichea's murder, due to a lack of evidence. The decision came about after both men had spent five years in jail.

"The authorities should have found the killer. The truth must be somewhere hidden inside. People try to cover it up," said Nop Ly, a vendor who sat down earlier this month on the exact spot where Chea Vichea was gunned down.

Flashback to the shooting

According to accounts given by the Cambodia Daily newspaper, a gunman dismounted from the back of a motorcycle, walked to one of the kiosks, and pretended to mull over some newspapers before removing a pistol from his trousers. He fired three bullets into Vichea, hitting him in the head, chest and left arm. The gunman then mounted his motorcycle and rode off with his accomplice.

Many believe [the murder is] politically motivated and strongly connected to those in power. Chea Vichea was an outstanding figure among the union leaders and active in leading the labour movements at that time.

There has been little speculation over why Vichea was murdered. He was a stern critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and openly expressed support for the country's opposition party. On several occasions he contacted journalists in the country to tell them about the latest death threat he had received via text message.

Yet the chances of finding justice in the case were always going to be slim. Following the attack, then-Deputy Police Chief Heng Pov, a notorious official who is currently serving a 100-year prison sentence for several crimes including the assassination of a judge, announced that the murder case would be solved within a week.

Sticking to that timeframe, Pov paraded Samnang and Sam Oeun in front of the media as the two men responsible for the killing. Once behind closed doors, police allegedly beat Samnang, leading him to confess.

But Var Sothy, an eyewitness to the killing who spoke to Cambodia Daily, said the pair was not the men she had seen that day on the motorcycle.

There were many more twists and turns in the case of Samnang and Sam Oeun. On March 19, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge, Hing Thirith, dropped the case against the two men, but five days later the judge was removed from his position. On June 1, the Appeal Court overturned Judge Thirith's decision and ordered the two men to be charged with Vichea's murder.

A year and a half after Vichea died, Samnang and Sam Oeun were found guilty of the crime in August 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in jail. The testimony of Sothy was never used as evidence in the case.

But controversy surrounding the court's decision was far from over. Human rights groups began a dedicated campaign to have the pair released. And on August 17, 2006, Heng Pov - who had fled Cambodia to seek political asylum in several countries, claiming that he knew the truth about the Vichea case - gave an interview to France's weekly magazine L'Express.

In that interview, Heng Pov said Samnang and Sam Oeun did not kill Vichea, claiming that he had been pressured by the late National Police chief, Hok Lundy, into framing the pair.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Appeals Court in 2008 for re-investigation due to lack of evidence, but the men were again sentenced in December 2012 and remained in jail until their release last month.

Although Samnang and Sam Oeun are now free, Vichea's killers are still at large. Observers of the case say impunity remains prevalent within Cambodia's justice system.

Culture of impunity

"A serious investigation is needed to find the true perpetrators. There should be some evidence. I believe the government and the competent authorities have it at hand and need to make way for further investigation," said Chundy Huon, a programme manager for the Community Legal Education Center, which provides legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses.

"Many believe it's politically motivated and strongly connected to those in power. Chea Vichea was an outstanding figure among the union leaders and active in leading the labour movements at that time. He also used to advise his members to vote for the opposition," Huon added.

"The government should compensate them [Sam Oeun and Samnang] for their imprisonment without guilt, although there is no clear law saying about that. This will show the public that national institutions are accountable to the innocent people," he said, adding that police had also failed to find justice in the murder cases of Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy, both members of the Free Trade Union who were gunned down in 2004 and 2007, respectively.

The perpetrators of these murders "have been at large and the investigations have revealed nothing in the previous mandates of the current government", Huon said.

Though officials at the Municipal and Supreme Court could not be reached, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said police had not received any order from the court to reopen an investigation into the murder case.

"At the moment we haven't received an instruction from the court to the police to reopen an investigation into the case," Sopheak said. "It totally depends on the court."

For Samnang and Sam Oeun, their release means re-acquainting themselves with family life and trying to make ends meet - especially because the court has paid no compensation to the two men for the many years they spent behind bars.

Unlike Sam Oeun, Samnang has managed to find a job as a driver for an international school in Phnom Penh. He earns $100 per month, just enough to keep his head above water.

"I am very depressed, because I did not do anything wrong," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I hope to have good health and a high standard of living now, but who is going to help me?"

"I don't know who killed him," Samnang declared. "Of course another investigation into the case should be opened, but right now I would just like to thank the court for releasing me from prison."


Anonymous said...

It time for pay back..

Anonymous said...

It time for pay back..

Anonymous said...

For those CRIMINAL CPP hardcore supporters who's so proud of their leaders, how you like Cambodia's justice system now? If you all like it, it must have DEAD brains by now. Why? because CRIMINAL CPP leaders alway turn from white to black.

Anonymous said...

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Vietnam's strategic interests are seriously threatened

Parliamentary election results on July 28, 2013 in Cambodia is a dangerous failure which Directorate 2 Cambodia brings. Lost 22 seats, there are 123 out of 68 seats. in Congress, the power of the Cambodian people's Party have bi declined.If serious election retaining seats, could not more than 30 seats. In fact, the Cambodian people's Party has lost mainstream properties to national leaders.

The strategic plan should quickly disposed of the head of TC II and build a new strategic model for Cambodia if not this intelligence is hard to maintain a presence in Vietnam add 10 more years and and from consequences may cause a series of systematic disruption spread to Laos pulls at his serious disorders, the inability to control the overseas interests. A dangerous power vacuum in the area will be formed and filled in by other powers. Vietnam's strategic interests are seriously threatened from the South. Bone blood of several generations, not just the absence of war with Polpot which of the world he first had a stabilizing effect on this border area is becoming worthless.

From the defeat of Polpot and formed the Government, a major intelligence General Directorate II was moved to the head of the Cambodian Intelligence Agency Lieutenant-General with names like in Vietnam: General Directorate II. Take full control of Cambodian politics, through the allocation of key personnel in the ministries of Cambodia and decided the basic social relations. The fact this Bureau is the designer of political, social and cultural shaping of Cambodia today, should also have to take responsibility for the results of the elections of this disgrace.

Murder the barbarian and exposing the Willow: in 2008, the General Directorate II for the poison to kill the Minister of the Interior and then to identify up to blow up airplanes in the sky in order to remove the possibility of suspicion from the people. Also in the same time, her father a journalist was shot and killed after leaving the opposition according to the people's Party. The several service usually bad too bad as 2 service on the common people should also analyze fairly accurate information makes the next place it is common to place the right question is no doubt due to Vietnam's intelligence.

Parallel to the hostile plan with the Vietnamese General Directorate II (TC II) tried to conceal or distort information from Cambodia to Vietnam to disengaged in the fallen from being the oversight from within the country. Turning Cambodia into a country familiar to most Vietnamese. Knowledge of the situation in Cambodia has been halting and distortion that causes the strategic planning completely blind

The issue fought most recently wondering who let the TC II in favour of China not to internationalize the issue in ASEAN Conference biền 2012. Who allows TC II pardon Sam Rainsy returned to cause dangerous consequences. Whether they are treason against national interests for personal self-interest.

Once the party save the Nation won the victory in the upcoming election year, the CIA, the intelligence, Thailand, China ... to accumulate enough computer and the intervention is inevitable. The blood of the General Directorate II may shed but the benefit war in this country, we can't make mistakes anymore.