Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Release scapegoats!

Today, January 22, Amnesty International releases a public statement which calls for the release of two men who are unfairly imprisoned for the murder of labour union leader Chea Vichea. For exactly four years ago, on January 22, 2004, Chea Vichea was murdered. Six days later the two men Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were arrested. In a highly flawed trial in August 2005 they were both convicted for the murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Cambodian authorities has been extensively criticised for the handling of the case, both domestically and internationally. Nevertheless the men's convictions were upheld by the Appeal Court in April 2007.

Souhayr Belhassen, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights said, according to the Amnesty statement, that "there is compelling evidence that these two men were targeted by the authorities as scapegoats for the murder".

Amnesty International also states that there has been an "ongoing pattern of violence against trade union activists in Cambodia". Two other labour unionists have been murdered since 2004 and many have been subjected to physical assaults.

Guy Ryder from the International Trade Union Confederation said the murders "sends a deplorable message to Cambodian workers that trade union membership or activity will put their safety at risk".

Amnesty International's Southeast Asia researcher Brittis Edman concluded that "four years after the murder of Chea Vichea, the true perpetrators remain at large while two innocent men are imprisoned. This deep injustice shows the sorry state of rule of law in Cambodia and the urgent need for genuine legal and judicial reform."

A joint statement by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) calls on the Cambodian authorities to exonerate and free Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, and to launch an independent public inquiry into the handling of the prosecution of them and a full and impartial investigation of the murder. The organisations also urge the Cambodian government to act against "Cambodia’s endemic impunity and lack of rule of law, government interference in the judiciary, intimidation and violence faced by trade union members and leaders, and widespread torture by the police".

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