The Supreme Court says they have no evidence that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were guilty of killing Chea Vichea, who was gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of Pnomh Penh in January 2004.
The United Nations and human rights groups have applauded the decision and are demanding a genuine investigation to find the true culprits of the killing.
Reporter: Tom Maddocks
Speakers: Bradley Cox, director of the film 'Who Killed Chea Vichea?'; Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO; Nay Vanda, deputy head of Human Rights Monitoring and Legal Aid at ADHOC
MADDOCKS: From the beginning, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were seen by many as scapegoats. Fatally shot in broad daylight at a news stand in central Phnom Penh, the murder of outspoken union leader Chea Vichea came amid a government crackdown on Cambodia's labour movement. The Supreme Court's decision to release Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun is an admission that the pair spent almost five years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Brad Cox is the director of the film 'Who Killed Chea Vichea?', which investigated the case and found the two suspects were innocent.
COX: First off I'm just completely stunned. I haven't heard better news in the past year and I'm just so happy for those guys. They've been through hell and to hear it's finally over for them and it's worked out, I just couldn't be happier. And I'm also quite surprised. I had little to no faith that a good result would come from this but in the past a lot of people have tried to second-guess the powers that be and more often than not, we guessed wrong. I remember the first time they had their appeal and everybody, including myself, felt they had a really good chance to get off and then they didn't. So they went to the Supreme Court and then nobody felt that they had a chance to get off and they did. And then when the charges got reinstated and there was a new trial, everybody assumed that it was a slam-dunk and they would get off and just rubber stamp what the Supreme Court had ruled, and instead they were re-convicted all over again.
MADDOCKS: Just a day after the formation of a new government, the ruling party's judicial reform is in the spotlight. Regardless of the timing, Brad Cox says it doesn't have anything to do with justice.
COX: The judicial system is not run on justice, it's not about the truth. It never has been and that's painfully obvious anytime you pick up a newspaper. Justice was mayber served through the back-door and it came 10 years too late and if you knew the story on how they got arrested in the first place, I mean it's cynical, it's disgusting and it never should have happened in the first place. So I'm happy they have their lives back but their lives have been changed forever and they're not going to really get those 10 years back.
MADDOCKS: Following a sustained campaign from within Cambodia and abroad, the pair lived nearly four years in freedom before being re-convicted and arrested in December last year.
Naly Pilorge is the Director of local rights group LICADHO and says she doubts whether the pair can return to any sort of normality.
PILORGE: I think after six years and one of the worst prisons in Cambodia it'd be very difficult for them to go back to their normal lives. Sok Sam Oeun has one very young daughter and an older daughter and Born Samnang isn't married but his mother has been at his side for a very long time. Hopefully they can join their families again and take it step-by-step and day-by-day.
MADDOCKS: While Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun can return to their families, the court will not grant them compensation for the time spent behind bars. Nay Vanda is from the Phnom Penh-based human rights group ADHOC.
VANDA: The authorities, as well as judicial system, need to have a moral responsibility, they need to pay compensation to Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang, and their families. I think justice has started but only if the other justice been given to other prisoners and detainees throughout the country. Doing this, we feel that the judicial reform can be started, not only with this case but with many other hundred cases to be solved like this."
MADDOCKS: Rights groups say there are hundreds more innocent human rights defenders who remain in jail. They're renewing calls for the release of land rights activist Yorm Bopha, jailed for three years on intentional violence charges in December last year. And while the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun is a victory for many, the big question still lingers: who killed Chea Vichea?