PHNOM PENH—Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered a halt in legal proceedings against Chea Mony, brother of slain union leader Chea Vichea, after Chea Mony blamed the government for his brother's killing.
Chea Vichea, former head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was gunned down in broad daylight at a newsstand here on Jan. 22, 2004. He was an outspoken critic of government corruption and human rights and labor abuses.
Two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, were convicted of murdering him, but the Supreme Court ordered their release and a retrial in 2008, citing contradictory evidence.
The Appeal Court here said Aug. 17 that a new investigation in the case would go ahead, setting both men free until a verdict is handed down.
Chea Mony said afterward that he remained certain that the government had been involved in his brother's killing, and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith then said Chea Mony would face prosecution for defamation and disinformation.
But Khieu Kanharith said in an interview Aug. 29 that Prime Minister Hun Sen had ordered his government to drop the charges, on grounds that Chea Mony was overwhelmed by grief when he spoke out.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), welcomed the decision.
"Concerning Samdech's [Prime Minister Hun Sen's] order for officials to stop legal action against me, and his request for pursuing Chea Vichea's murderers, the workers, my family, and I are very pleased," he said.
The FTUWKC is one of the country's most active unions, with about 30,000 members. It has said the killing was politically motivated.
Human rights groups have sharply criticized the government's handling of the case, saying Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were framed. They also point to numerous police and judicial irregularities.
Sophie Richardson, Washington-based Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, welcomed reports that charges against Chea Mony had been dropped.
"If it is in fact true that Hun Sen has dropped the defamation charges against Chea Mony, that's not a bad thing. But the fact remains that those charges never should have been imposed in the first place," Richardson said.
"And if the prime minister has somehow come to a more enlightened understanding about freedom of expression, there are a host of other defamation cases that should also be dropped, since they are wildly incompatible with both Cambodian and international law," she said.
Original reporting by Sok Serey for RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Uon Chhin. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.