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Rights Workers Dismayed as Court Upholds Sentences in Activist Murder

Rights workers who sought to free two men they say were unjustly convicted in the murder of a labor leader were disappointed Thursday, as the Court of Appeals upheld 20-year sentences for the men.

The court's decision flew in the face of international pressure, as well as claims from former King Norodom Sihanouk that the men, Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, were innocent.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 23 rights organizations, called the decision by Appeals Judge Saly Theary "very unjust and politically biased."

"The court did not use its independent power to make a fair and reasonable decision on this case," the committee said in a statement following a Phnom Penh hearing Thursday where the two convicted men did not appear.

The men "should be released immediately," the committee said.

Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun were arrested just one week after the murder of outspoken labor leader Chea Vichea, and rights workers and lawyers say their quick prosecution, despite a lack of evidence and witnesses, was deeply flawed.