(Corrects date of murder to 2004 from 2005 in 1st para)
By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH Dec 27 A Cambodian court ordered the
return to prison on Thursday of two men seen by rights groups as
scapegoats for the 2004 murder of a top unionist, the latest
controversial ruling in a country chided for its low judicial
The Appeals Court upheld a lower court's handing down of
20-year jail terms for Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun for killing
Free Trade Union (FTU) leader Chea Vichea, despite weak
Following a public outcry, the Supreme Court released the
two on bail in 2008 after three years in jail to allow further
investigation. The Appeals Court on Thursday made no mention of
any new evidence against them.
"Please help me, this is very unjust," Born Samnang shouted
as he was taken away by police. He wept and said he would seek
help from King Norodom Sihamoni to clear his name.
Cambodia's positive image among investors as one of Asia's
most promising emerging economies and a cheaper alternative to
China is being dented by allegations of rampant rights abuses
and political interference in the judiciary to silence dissent
or allow well-connected figures to walk free.
Violence against union leaders is not uncommon in Cambodia
and activists say scapegoats have been found to ensure those
instigating the attacks go unpunished.
As Cambodia's $4.2 billion garment manufacturing sector
grows, unions and workers are becoming increasingly emboldened,
holding protests and strikes over pay and working conditions.
Rights groups were incensed last week when a local
politician connected with the ruling party was cleared by a
court of firing bullets into a crowd of striking factory workers
earlier this year, wounding three women.
Chea Mony, the current FTU president and brother of the late
Chea Vichea, said he was shocked by Thursday's ruling and
criticised the authorities for failing to bring the real
culprits to justice.
"We have not seen any light of justice at all in this case,"
Chea Mony told Reuters. "The court is well aware of what's going
on and that it lacks its independence."
(Editing by Martin Petty)