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Fearful Families Await Court Verdict

Families for accused murderers Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun are fearfully awaiting a final decision by the Supreme Court over whether the two will serve the remainders of their 20-year prison sentences.

Both men were tried and sentenced by Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August 2005 for the 2004 murder of popular labor leader Chea Vichea,but human rights groups, labor organizations and others widely agree they are innocent. The Court of Appeals in April 2007 upheld the verdict and sentence, and the Supreme Court began deliberations last week.

"I am waiting for the result of the Supreme Court and am trembling with fear on whether the court will decide to release him or now,because my son has not committed a murder," said Noun Kim Sri, mother of Born Samnang.

"I have no hope for a Supreme Court decision to release him, but I've put my hope on the king to pardon him," said Vorun Phnon, Sok Samoeun's father.

A number of organizations, from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to the UN's human rights office and the International Labor Organization, have called of the courts to weigh the evidence fairly as judges weigh the fates of the two men. But there was little faith among some that the courts, accused of political bias and corruption, would act accordingly.

"The Cambodian government has long acknowledged weaknesses in the judiciary and made commitments to address this, but has taken no meaningful steps to do so," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"The court is corrupt, unjust, political and not independent," said Chea Mony, who is the brother of Chea Vichea and now heads Chea Vichea's labor movement, the Free Trade Union of Workers in theKingdom of Cambodia. "If the court does not free Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, my Free Trade Union will hold a mass demonstration against all levels of the court."

Hong Kimsoun, lawyer for the two men, said he had prepared a legalstrategy to fight a Supreme Court guilty verdict. But, he said, "Ihope my clients will get justice from the hearing by the SupremeCourt, because my clients did not commit murder, and we have enoughevidence, witnesses and time" to prove it.