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Cablegate: Protestors Demand Reopening of Chea Vichea Murder Case -- A

VZCZCXRO1867
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHPF #1404 2190238
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070238Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7111
INFO RUEHZS/ASEAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PHNOM PENH 001404

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/RSP, AND DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM ELAB PREL KJUS CB
SUBJECT: PROTESTORS DEMAND REOPENING OF CHEA VICHEA MURDER CASE -- A
YEAR AFTER CONVICTIONS


1. (U) Summary: On August 1 (the first-year anniversary of the
convictions), 20 armed police officers dispersed protestors who had
gathered in front of the Phnom Penh prison holding the two convicted
killers of Chea Vichea to demand that their cases be reopened.
Protesters also appealed to King Sihamoni to issue a royal pardon to
release the two men; former King Sihanouk has called for a
re-examination of the case. Responding to union leader (and brother
of Chea Vichea) Chea Mony's letter requesting the release of the two
men, the Minister of Justice stated that new evidence is needed to
reopen the murder case. End Summary.

Demonstration Halted; Protesters Appeal for Justice
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (U) Around 60 NGO workers, union leaders, monks and family
members of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun rallied on August 1 in
front of Phnom Penh's Civil Police prison. They planned a peaceful
ceremony to release birds marking the first anniversary of the
convictions for murdering the popular union leader Chea Vichea in
2004. Some 20 police officers of the Phnom Penh Police
Commissariat, armed with rifles and electric batons, ordered
demonstrators to move away. The Phnom Penh Police Commissioner
Touch Naroth cited concerns of an attack on a nearby police station
as a reason for the dispersal. Protestors had to move from the
prison and release birds from a nearby pagoda.
3. (U) On January 22, 2004, Chea Vichea was shot to death by
unmasked assailants while reading a newspaper at a Phnom Penh
newsstand. Chea Vichea's funeral procession attracted thousands of
sympathizers to the downtown Phnom Penh streets, and highlighted the
strong public pressure for finding those behind the murder of the
popular union leader. Several days later, the Phnom Penh Municipal
police arrested Samnang and Sam Oeun, accusing the two men or the
murder. When paraded in front of the media, both claimed they were
scapegoats.
4. (U) Investigations by human rights groups and journalists
showed both suspects had strong alibis for the time around the
shooting. Born Samnang claimed that the police initially extracted
a confession out of him under duress - beatings, threats and bribes.
On 19 March, 2004, Judge Heng Thirit dismissed the case for lack of
evidence, prompting his removal by the Supreme Council Magistracy.
The Phnom Penh Court Prosecutor immediately appealed the decision to
the Appeals Court. On July 1, 2004, the Appeals Court reversed the
ruling and returned the case to the Phnom Penh Court for further
investigation. On August 1, 2006, the Phnom Penh Court convicted
the two men on the basis of the initial confessions, which had later
been recanted. Apart from the confessions, no evidence was
presented at the trial linking the two men to the murder. Born
Samnang had an alibi placing him 60 km away from the crime scene at
the time of the murder. Witnesses reportedly were intimidated by
police. Both men appealed the verdict and their appeals have yet to
be heard.
5. (SBU) Much local and international criticism surrounded the
criminal proceedings and NGOs highlighted irregularities in the
investigation of the case. Many believe that the two did not commit
the crime, and have called for a reinvestigation of the case. Kek
Galabru, President of LICADHO, said "neither of them committed this
crime. It was an unjust trial; they should be released." Rong
Chhun, a close associate of Chea Vichea and fellow union leader,
also questioned the verdicts. UNOHCHR Director Margo Picken
reiterated UNOHCHR's criticism on the conviction.

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6. (U) Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade Union (FTU) and
brother of the deceased union leader Chea Vichea, submitted a letter
in March 2006 to the Ministry of Justice requesting the release of
the two convicts. Ang Vong Vathana, the Minister of Justice,
responded that the case can only be reopened with new, credible
evidence. He also stated that letters from the prison director and
the Phnom Penh Court President requesting pardons or a reduction in
sentencing are needed before the MOJ would consider any such
requests.

7. (U) Former King Norodom Sihanouk joined the debate recently by
calling for the a re-examination of the case. At the time of the
two men's conviction, the former Cambodian monarch indicated concern
about the verdict, and had provided money to the families of the
both men. The families requested an audience with Sihanouk in July
2006, but the former king denied the request, opting instead to
publicly question the verdict and renew the call for justice in this
case.

8. (SBU) Comment. Over two years after his murder, many questions
continue to surround the death of Chea Vichea. The Cambodian human
rights community remains convinced that the people behind bars are
not the actual killers of the slain union leader, and the family of
Chea Vichea does not believe justice has been served. The RGC,
however, is unwilling to reopen a highly emotional case and one that
could become politically volatile. End Comment.

MUSSOMELLI

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