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Supreme Court Hears Case in Unionist Murder

Cambodian labor union workers carry flowers as they march to mark the 7th year anniversary of Chea Vichea's death, Cambodia's former free trade union president.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard the case of Thach Saveth, the suspect in a 2004 shooting of a labor activist who claims he was wrongfully charged.

Thach Saveth, 28, was arrested in July 2004 for the murder of Ros Sovannareth, a representative of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, in May that year.

The murder of Ros Sovannareth followed the February killing of the union’s president, Chea Vichea, and the arrests of two men widely considered innocent of that crime.

Human rights groups have said Thach Saveth was likely not the killer and have demanded he be released and an investigation continued.

In court on Wednesday, Thach Saveth told judges he had not shot Ros Sovannareth. On that day, he was in the northern province of Oddar Meanchey visiting relatives, he said.

When he was arrested, police asked him about his involvement in drug use, but when he admitted to the use of methamphetamines he was arrested and charged with murder, he told the court.

Chea Mony, the current president of the Free Trade Union, said the court lacked the evidence to charge Thach Saveth and should release him.

He said the case was similar to the arrests that followed the murder of Chea Vichea, who was his brother.

The men arrested in that case, Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun were also widely considered innocent. They were freed by a Supreme Court decision in 2008 and are awaiting a retrial by the Appeals Court.

“Thach Saveth is a ‘plastic killer,’ like Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun,” Chea Mony said, using the Cambodian term for someone who has been framed.

Ros Sovannareth was the second Free Trade Union activist of three killed in 2004. Rights groups have decried the handling of all three cases, claiming the actual perpetrators remain at large.

The court will announce its decision next week.