"Please help us! I never killed anybody! This is injustice!"
cries Sok Sam Ouen as he and Born Samnang are dragged from the courtroom. Sentenced to twenty years for the murder of Chea Vichea, the two men are inconsolable. The political opposition, the press, the workers, all are incensed and disgusted at the sentence. Yet another miscarriage of justice in Cambodia. It only serves to reinforce the people's belief that "a Cambodian's life is worth the same as a chicken"
On 22nd January 2004 Chea Vichea was gunned down outside a news stand on the streets of Phnom Penh. A champion and protector of the workers his death was mourned by millions, one grieving woman declared "it's like we don't have anyone to rely on anymore. it's like losing a mother"
. Despite both having concrete alibis, Sok Sam Ouen and Born Samnang were convicted of his murder.
"They had to arrest somebody"
, says opposition figure Sam Rainsy, "they had to do something for the show"
. The police and executive carefully chose the two 'murderers', fabricated evidence, and pushed the case through the impotent courts. One former government official discloses that, "if a judge makes a decision on his own, the consequence could be fatal"
Vichea's murder, and Ouen's and Samnang's convictions, highlighted the dangers of opposing Hun Sen's kleptocratic rule. One former policeman revealed how he was ordered to assassinate opposition activists, after which they would "feed them to the crocodiles"
. But Hun Sen is lauded globally, Cambodia's importance to the West as a manufacturer prevents international criticism. "This is a government that's corrupt, that murders people, violates human rights, and the U.S. Embassy says human rights have improved"
, laments Chea Mony, Chea Vichea's brother.
As he is led back to prison after his unsuccessful appeal, Sok Sam Ouen howls "It's an injustice! It's no different than the Khmer Rouge!"
. After Who Killed Chea Vichea, it's hard to disagree with him.