Lawyer’s Discovery of Truth Leads to Acquittal

 

June 2014

Rosemary Hambright

Scorned for being poor, a young man in Cambodia found himself at the mercy of a dysfunctional judicial system. Fortunately, IBJ was able to step in and offer legal aid.

What started as a story of romance for Virek[1], a 19-year-old villager from Stung Treng Province, ended with a 3-month prison detention for a crime he did not commit as well as a broken heart. Virek is one of 10 children who live and work with their mother on the family’s rice farm. The family is poor and still feels the loss of their father who died 7 years ago. Next door, Nary (age 18) lives with her wealthier family on a soy bean farm.

Virek and Nary were in love and had been dating for 2 years when one day, Nary’s sister caught the two of them alone and told their parents. Nary’s father hit her, so she lied and told him that Virek had raped her. Nary’s parents already disliked Virek because he was poor, so they filed a complaint against him. Nary herself even testified to the police that she had been raped. Virek was surprised when the police showed up to his home in the afternoon of February 8, 2014. He was taken to a police station where he was threatened with physical violence if he did not confess to raping Nary. Though Virek denied hurting her, he was still passed from commune to district to provincial police custody. Though he was not harmed, he continued to receive threats. The prosecutor filed charges and the investigating judge sent him to prison two days later on February 10th.

Kosal and Virek

Kosal and Virek

Under Cambodian law rape is considered a felony, meaning that legal representation must be provided to the accused. The police, prosecutor, and the investigating judge all failed to inform Virek about his rights. Luckily, Virek’s older cousin Kosal knew about the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). In Stung Treng province, ADHOC will refer cases to International Bridges to Justice as they often work in partnership. The IBJ lawyer who lives and works in the neighboring Ratanakiri province, Mao Sary, also takes on cases from Stung Treng province with the help of his assistant, Phon Sophoes. When Kosal contacted ADHOC about his cousin’s unfair imprisonment two days after the Virek’s arrest, ADHOC referred him to IBJ.

Phon Sophoes, Kosal and Virek

IBJ’s goal is to prevent investigative torture by becoming involved with its clients’ cases at the earliest stage possible. It strives to hold justice stakeholders to the same standard of law as articulated in the Cambodian Constitution, statutes, and treaties, all of which recognize certain universal human rights. Though Virek was never informed of his right to legal counsel during his time in detention, IBJ hopes to facilitate a culture in which the law is applied equally to all who are accused. In addition, IBJ runs radio ads and organizes Community Legal Awareness campaigns to inform citizens of their rights as well as advertise the availability of IBJ.

Virek describes prison life as “difficult.” A typical day might start at 5 am, although if it had rained during the night Virek would not have been able to sleep at all. The room that he shared with 34 other people did not have walls, only chain link fences, so everyone became wet if it rained. Additionally, in order for everyone to fit on the floor at night, the prisoners were forced to sleep on their sides. During the day, Virek and the others made metal fish traps that were sold to vendors in the market. Virek made 3000 riel ($0.75 USD) a day and saved it to buy sweets or shampoo from the prison guards. Though he was allowed to take a shower each day, he never knew when it would be. Meals were served only twice a day at around 11 am and 3 pm. Poor plumbing meant the prison frequently smelled bad.

The prison guards insulted Virek daily. He lived in fear of them and some of the other prisoners. One time he saw his family through the fence because they had come to visit him. Unfortunately, the prison guards decided not to let them see Virek and made them leave. Each day Virek wondered to himself how much longer he might be in prison. He had no idea. He longed for freedom and worried about his family. Three weeks after Virek’s incarceration, Mao Sary visited him and found out that the alleged victim, Nary, was actually Virek’s long-term girlfriend. He also met with Virek’s family and learned about Nary’s family’s prejudice. He knew Virek was innocent so he came up with a strategy to help him.

During the trial, Mao Sary asked the trial judge to send Nary’s family out of the room. When they were gone, he asked Nary if Virek had raped her. With the pressure from her family removed, she admitted she had been lying to the police, the prosecutor, and the investigating judge. She said she was in love with Virek and that he had not raped her. Thanks to the work of IBJ, he was acquitted of his false accusations in May. The first thing Virek did when he went to his home was hug and kiss his family before enjoying a big bowl of rice.

Since leaving prison, Virek has not seen or spoken with Nary. Her family has forbidden her to talk with him. He now works on his cousin Kosal’s farm during the day and only returns to his mother’s house to sleep at night. Virek’s family is scared of retaliation from Nary’s family, but when asked if he thought it would be better if he were in prison Virek said that ”No, it is better to be free.” When asked which was worse—his experience in prison or losing Nary—he looked down at the ground and said his broken heart.

Virek

Virek thinks that if he did not have an IBJ lawyer, he would still be in prison today. This is likely true. Under Cambodian law, rape without aggravating circumstances is punishable by imprisonment from five to ten years. In addition, the investigating judge looking into a felony may opt to keep the prisoner in jail for up to an additional 18 months before the trial. Furthermore, because Virek was charged with a felony, his trial could not have proceeded without legal representation. There is one private lawyer in Stung Treng province, but Virek’s family is too poor to afford his services. The Stung Treng court would have had to request a legal aid lawyer from the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC). Some prisoners have had to wait for their trial in prison for as long as one or two years for a BAKC lawyer from Phnom Penh. As IBJ’s legal aid lawyers are permanently stationed in the provinces, IBJ is able to ensure that there are less undue delays in case procedures in the more remote areas of Cambodia.

Virek is ”very happy and grateful” that IBJ helped him. His cousin Kosal is also ”very happy” and wants to say ”thank you very much” to IBJ. Virek still thinks about his life in jail every once in a while as ”it was such a difficult and bad time.” He says that he ”wants IBJ to help other prisoners because some prisoners like [him] are innocent.” Not all prisoners understand their rights and even fewer understand the role of a lawyer. Virek’s cousin Kosal has made a point of telling all of his friends and neighbors about IBJ’s legal aid services. Thanks to the quick thinking of Kosal, IBJ was able to intervene and reunite an innocent boy and his family.

[1] Names have been changed for this story. The client and his family consented for their story to be shared.

Father of 5 Released by IBJ Lawyer

11 June 2014

Jeanne Salomé

Mr. Pagna(1) lives in a small village, 30 minutes away from Banteay Meanchey city in the north-west corner of Cambodia. His house made of metal sheets stands close to rice fields and small water streams. A father-of-5, he and his wife already had difficulties supporting their family and their daily living. A while ago, Pagna walked on a mine and lost his ability to perform all kinds of work. He mainly relies on fishing and other small jobs to make a living. The land he occupies with his family was lent to them by an owner, understanding their dire situation. But ultimately, they need to pay him back. In these difficult circumstances, Pagna’s wife suggested him last February to go up the stream close to their house and try to catch some fish there. Pagna went and used electronic equipment to provoke an electric shock and get more fish. He knew that such fishing methods were forbidden, but he was ready to take the risk and get a chance to bring back a little bit more money for his family. However, one day, as he was sailing up the stream to go back home, he saw the police waiting for him, probably alerted by some people in the neighborhood.

The police officers arrested Pagna and seized his fishing equipment, boat and motorbike to use them as evidence in the case. One day after his arrest, Pagna was taken to the court and then to the prison to wait for his trial. The court officers informed IBJ about his case. Nop Kunthol, the IBJ lawyer in Banteay Meanchey province, met with Pagna in prison. Considering the circumstances of the case and her client’s personal situation, Nop Kunthol applied for bail. The first bail application was not successful due to administrative issues within the court. The judge agreed on the first bail application but did not properly fill in the document to transfer to the prosecutor. The latter, noticing the missing parts in the document, did not process the release on bail to avoid mistakes in procedure. Quickly, Nop Kunthol filled a second bail request which was successful.

Mr Pagna and his family in their home in Banteay Meanchey

Mr Pagna and his family in their home in Banteay Meanchey

In total, Pagna spent 4 months in pretrial detention. Those 4 months were very difficult for him. He was really worried about his family, especially given the fact that his wife was about to deliver their fifth child. His wife tried to find support from other organizations. When she heard about IBJ, she was skeptical about whether or not the lawyer’s services were free of charge. Now she trusts IBJ and spreads the word about the organization. Unfortunately, to date, Pagna has not been able to resume his work, as the court seized his equipment and his vehicle and did not allow him to get new ones. He will try to find a solution to earn some money. He and the IBJ lawyer are now waiting for the trial date, and will do their best to come up with a solid defense strategy and prevent him being sentenced to imprisonment and being away from his family again.


(1) Names changed.

Intervention of IBJ Lawyer Results in Shortened Sentence for Poor Man

10 June 2014

Jeanne Salomé

 Twenty-four year old Virak[1] has been in prison since November 2013. When we met him in early June 2014, he still had to serve one more week of his sentence before being definitively released. He was charged with theft and had received a reduced sentence during his trial last May, thanks to the intervention of Roth Chantol, an International Bridges to Justice lawyer working in Pursat and Kampong Chhnang provinces.

Virak was arrested by the police last year for having stolen a phone in a garage. After a couple of drinks with friends, he had taken his motorbike there to get it fixed. When he went back to the garage the following day, the police were there waiting to arrest him.

Police officers interrogated him and asked him how many times he had committed theft. He spoke the truth: only this one time. The police slapped him twice and beat him with a stick in an attempt to obtain evidence that would escalate his case to a more serious crime. Though Virak controlled himself, the police quickly still him to prison in pre-trial detention after a short first appearance before the court. No one in the court or in the prison informed him about his rights. Luckily for Virak, IBJ and Roth Chantol found out about his case during one of their regular visits to the prison where they both agreed that he would represent Virak.

On the 9th of May 2014, Virak went to attend his trial with Roth Chantol. Charged with theft, he incurred a sentence of 6 months to 3 years imprisonment. The lawyer presented his defense arguments, highlighting the fact that his client was a first-time offender and that the act he committed was not a serious one. Chantol emphasized the fact that his client had pled guilty and maintained the same, consistent, version of the facts throughout the procedure. Accordingly, the IBJ lawyer requested that the court consider Article 93 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia regarding mitigating circumstances. His strategy was to convince the panel of judges of his legal arguments and obtain a reduced sentence for his client. In the end they were successful: the court sentenced Virak to 7 months of imprisonment. As he had already served several months in pretrial detention, he will be soon released.

Virak had never heard about IBJ before they came to his aid. As we met him in prison in early June, he told us that he knows he would have stayed in jail much longer without the help of a defense lawyer. He truly appreciates the lawyer’s efforts, both inside and outside of the courtroom, especially because Roth Chantol visited him in prison several times and advised him on how to behave and what to say on the day of trial. Virak felt more protected with a lawyer at his defense and was confident that the case would result in a positive outcome. After his release, Virak will most likely he will spend some time with his mother living in a pagoda and resume his life as a self-employed worker.

 

[1] Names changed.

IBJ Lawyer Helps Free Wrongly Accused in Stung Treng

18 March 2014

J. Salomé

After a two hour drive from Ratanakiri we arrive in Stung Treng, a small provincial city in the North East of Cambodia close to the Lao border. We go off the main road and follow a path going under a bridge, a red-track shadowed by trees with small village houses on each side. We stop the car in front of a fence, go beneath it and walk in a property. At the end of the garden, on the left side, there is a traditional wooden house on stilts. Next to it, a small, simple concrete house is standing with a pediment reading that the house was donated to the family to support them.

A young man is waiting for us in front of the small ladder leading to the wooden platform of the house. His name is Ly[1], and he was defended by the IBJ lawyer a few months ago. We settle on a mat on the platform to listen to his story while a very old woman comes towards us, looks at us attentively, and sits down next to us. Ly explains that she is his grandmother and that she does not speak Khmer, but Lao. He seemed quite impressed to meet again his lawyer, the person who got him out of jail a few months ago. But one could also see a hint of sadness in his eyes, as a now permanent mark of his experience in detention.

On 11th September 2013, Ly was sitting in a café when one of his acquaintances walked up to him and gave him two sets of clothes before rushing out of the place. A little confused, Ly went back home and pursued his daily routine. However, two weeks later, the police came to his home to accuse him of having stolen these clothes. They took him to the police station, where he stayed a few days before being transferred to the prison in Stung Treng in pretrial detention. The friend who had given him the clothes was arrested as well.

Ly had spent a total of 3 months and 23 days in pretrial detention. He was 17 years old at that time. His case was referred to Mao Sary, the IBJ lawyer working in Ratanakiri and Stung Treng provinces, by ADHOC, the human rights NGO. Ly and Sary met the day of the trial, on 23 January 2014. Ly knew from his father that a lawyer could defend and protect him. In his plea, Sary carefully analyzed the facts and highlighted that his client had only witnessed the whole situation. His friend, the actual perpetrator, was trying to get rid of the evidence. He underlined in his defense strategy that the police were not present at the crime scene and that his client was not in possession of the object of the offense. He also stressed that Ly had been consistent in all his statements, denying the charges all the way throughout the procedure. Over the course of the trial, Sary realized that the prosecutor was still reluctant to listen to the defendant’s version of the facts. The prosecutor claimed that Ly was an accomplice to the theft. So Sary decided to interrogate the victim whose statement matched the version of the facts alleged by Ly in order to make a powerful argument in favor of his client. Despite the prosecutor’s unwillingness to drop the charges against Ly, the judge decided to acquit and release him the same day.

When Ly was awaiting his trial in Stung Treng prison, he was struck by the unjust character of what was happening to him. As a juvenile, he was kept separate from the adults. The prison conditions were not easy: he had only two meals a day and drinking water was scarce. He became stressed and could not sleep well in jail. As he was evoking and reviving these painful memories with us, his look became more evasive and tainted with sadness. He told us that he had missed his family a lot and written many letters to them while he was in prison.


[1] Name changed.

IBJ Convenes Interfaith Peace Vigil in Geneva to End Torture

IMG_4066

The UN declared 26th of June the United Nations Day in Support of Victims of Torture. To honor these victims and their families, International Bridges to Justice brought together members of every faith at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland to light a candle and say a prayer for the end of torture in our lifetime.

Religious leaders, country representatives, and members of the Geneva community came together to stand in solidarity with International Bridges to Justice and the efforts of our JusticeMakers and Fellows around the world working to enact justice for all accused.

Continue reading

Peace Vigils Held Worldwide

Supporters of International Bridges to Justice held their own Interfaith Peace Vigils in cities around the world for International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on or before June 26th. Internationally, supporters gathered with friends and family to light a candle and say a few words in solidarity for the end of torture as an investigative tool in our lifetime.

IBJ received pictures from over 16 different countries and 4 continents! We are thankful for the outpouring of support IBJ has received internationally, from individuals and groups alike, giving us strength to build our vision of a just and peaceful world. The success of the Interfaith Peace Vigil Worldwide and CitiesForJustice campaigns remain a central  force behind our global effort to eradicate torture in the 21st century.

John Bosco Bugingo, IBJ Rwanda Fellow in Kigali

John Bosco Bugingo, IBJ Rwanda Fellow in Kigali

 

Marlon Zakeyo, Former IBJ Africa Program Officer, Johannesburg Area, South Africa

Marlon Zakeyo, Former IBJ Africa Program Officer, Johannesburg Area, South Africa

 

IBJ JusticeMakers Fellow, Patrick Dunkwu in Lagos, Nigeria

IBJ JusticeMakers Fellow, Patrick Dunkwu in Lagos, Nigeria

 

Zimbabwe's Interfaith Peace Vigil held on June 26th

IBJ Zimbabwe Fellow Innocent Maja at the Interfaith Peace Vigil held in Harare on June 26th

 

Youth Scholar Ethan Swift in front of the Merlion statue in Singapore

Youth Scholar Ethan Swift in front of the Merlion statue in Singapore

 

IBJ's team at Bell & Drum towers in Beijing, China

IBJ’s team at Bell & Drum towers in Beijing, China

 

Youth Scholar Daniel Fung Jr. holding a vigil at his own place with family and friends in Hong Kong.

Youth Scholar Daniel Fung Jr. holding a vigil at his home with family and friends in Hong Kong

 

Hong Kong

Members of Justice Centre Hong Kong organizing a vigil in solidarity with IBJ

 

Red Square in Moscow, Russia

Red Square in Moscow, Russia

 

Youth Scholar Jihun Hong holding an Interfaith Peace Vigil for family and friends in Seoul, South Korea

Youth Scholar Jihun Hong holding an Interfaith Peace Vigil for family and friends in Seoul, South Korea

 

Former IBJ Staff David Zhou in Toronto, Canada

Former IBJ Staff David Zhou in Toronto, Canada

 

India Peace Centre in Maharashtra, India

India Peace Centre in Maharashtra, India

 

Swami Agnivesh of India at the Inter-Faith Vigil at Jantar Mantar Road, New Delhi, India

Swami Agnivesh of India at the Inter-Faith Vigil at Jantar Mantar Road, New Delhi, India

 

IBJ India Fellow, Ajay Verma and IBJ staff member Courtney Skiles in New Delhi, India

IBJ India Fellow, Ajay Verma and IBJ staff member Courtney Skiles in New Delhi, India

 

IBJ India Fellow Ajay Verma at a Tibetan temple in Delhi, India

IBJ India Fellow Ajay Verma at a Tibetan temple in Delhi, India

 

Unitarian Universalists, Geneva, Switzerland

Unitarian Universalists, Geneva, Switzerland

 

IBJ staff Geneva, Switzerland

IBJ interns Geneva, Switzerland

 

Staff of Human Rights and Development Foundation of Thailand in Bangkok, Thailand

Staff of Human Rights and Development Foundation of Thailand in Bangkok, Thailand

 

Afghanistan

IBJ JusticeMakers Fellow  Judge Mahfuza Folad organized a vigil in Kabul, Afghanistan and invited judges, police, prosecutors, school children, and community representatives

 

Vigil in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

IBJ Cambodia staff led by Cambodia Fellow Ouk Vandeth at an interfaith peace vigil organized in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

Empire State Building in New York, USA

Empire State Building in New York City USA

 

Former IBJ staff Jamila Justine Willis at Times Square, New York City

Former IBJ staff Jamila Justine Willis at Times Square, New York City USA

 

UN in New York, USA

UN in New York, USA

 

International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage with former IBJ staff in Washington DC, USA

International Program Director Sanjeewa Liyanage with former IBJ staff in Washington DC USA

 

Dallas, Texas USA

Dallas, Texas USA

 

Shawna Foster in Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Shawna Foster in Omaha, Nebraska USA

 

Meadville Lombard students, Chicago, IL, USA

Meadville Lombard students, Chicago, IL USA

 

Rev. Joanna Crawford, USA

Rev. Joanna Crawford, USA

 

Rev. Eric Posa, USA

Rev. Eric Posa, USA

 

Rev. Patrice Curtis, USA

Rev. Patrice Curtis, USA

Rev. Meg Riley, USA

Rev. Meg Riley, USA

 

Rev. Hank Pierce, USA

Rev. Hank Pierce, USA

 

Youth raising awareness in Santa Monica, California

Youth raising awareness in Santa Monica, California USA

 

Guest Speaker and Founding IBJ Board Member Mia Yamamoto with local organizers Judith Lyons and Charlene Huang in Santa Monica, California

Guest Speaker and Founding IBJ Board Member Mia Yamamoto with local organizers Judith Lyons and Charlene Huang in Santa Monica, California USA

 

Milli Barendse in front of a Dutch windmill in Vlissingen, the Netherlands.

Milli Barendse in front of a Dutch windmill in Vlissingen, the Netherlands

 

Pawan Rauf in front of the Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Pawan Rauf in front of the Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IBJ's team at Bell & Drum towers in Beijing, China

IBJ China Program Office Hosts an Interfaith Vigil Dedicated to Ending of Torture

Derek Brow

On June 26, 2014, the IBJ China Program office in Beijing hosted an interfaith vigil event for the purpose of sending the message to end torture worldwide.  During the vigil, prayers and sermons from various faiths were recited by employees and interns at the IBJ, which included messages from the Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist communities.  Each prayer or sermon contained a theme of ending torture and promoted peace and healing.

IBJ's Beijing staff at the Beijing Bell Tower

IBJ’s Beijing staff at the Beijing Bell Tower

The IBJ China team posted IBJ banners in our office during the vigil and also lit incense on an altar at the office.  After the vigil, the IBJ team went to various locations around Beijing to take additional photos with the IBJ Vigil banners, including the famous Drum Tower in Guloudajie, the Bell Tower in Guloudajie, and the Bird’s Nest site in the Beijing Olympic Center.

IBJ's China staff at their office in Beijing

IBJ’s China staff at their office in Beijing

What made this event so worthwhile was that it gave the IBJ China office a chance to step back and reflect on the IBJ’s short-term and long-term goals in the aspect of torture.  We were reminded of Karen Tse’s message for why this is such an important and meaningful cause, and her experiences are a significant driving force behind the IBJ’s projects.  This vigil demonstrated how people of different faiths and different cultures could unite in achieving the same peaceful resolution, and that message was truly inspiring to me.

IBJ's team at Bell & Drum towers in Beijing, China

IBJ’s team at Bell & Drum towers in Beijing, China

After reciting the prayers and messages from different faiths during the vigil, I was reminded of the significance and value of the IBJ’s work around the world, and I felt further motivated to contribute to the IBJ in any way that I can.  I truly hope that other IBJ workers and volunteers around the world were as affected by this vigil in the same way that I was.  No matter what our faiths or backgrounds are, we can all work together in achieving our goals if we continue to stay motivated and remain persistent.  For all these reasons, the vigil was a great success and I am truly grateful for having this experience with my IBJ team!

Vigil in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Interfaith Peace Vigil – Insights from Cambodia

Ly Eng & Jake Mooney

IBJ’s Ending Torture Event took place on 20, June, 2014 at the Toul Tom Poung Pagoda. The event focused on the importance of uniting people from all religious backgrounds in the common goal of putting an end to torture and bringing long lasting peace to our world.

IBJ, being a non-secular organization, deeply believes in the value of using universal religious principles as a means to convey our message and connect with the local culture wherever in the world we may be working. Buddhism is an ancient religion, which holds deeply the importance of Sīla, or ethical conduct. In the tradition of Sīla many direct and indirect connections can be made to IBJ’s mission in Cambodia. The purpose of this event was to honor the dominant religion in Cambodia while bringing together IBJ staff from different backgrounds to reflect on our work as well as pray for future success.

 

Participants in the event included IBJ lawyers from all the provinces as well as the entire staff of the head office in Phnom Penh. A monk started the gathering by leading a prayer, transitioning seamlessly into a traditional Buddhist mediation. The meditation was centered on four main principles: Metta, loving-kindness; Karuna, compassion, Mudita, sympathetic joy, and Upekkā, equanimity. The goal was for each participant to reflect on the work they are doing, internalize their impact on the world, and pray for the ongoing atrocities to finally come to an end. After meditating, each participant held a lit candle in one hand and a Lotus in the other while the monks recited another prayer. The candle represented light, a guide to heaven, while the scent of the Lotus acts as a traditional spiritual offering. After a monetary offering to the monks and the priests, they wished us success in our mission and the event came to a close.

SopheaksHome

Twenty Kids in a Four by Four Meter Cell: How IBJ Freed One Teenager

Erika Larsen

I have only been interning in IBJ Cambodia’s Battambang office for a few weeks, but I have already seen just how important the work they do is to those accused of crimes here in Battambang Province. Sopheak’s* acquittal provides a clear example of the impact of IBJ’s success.

(Kalyan (lawyer assistant), Sopheak’s mother, Sopheak, Me (legal intern); Taken at Sopheak’s home.)

Kalyan (lawyer assistant), Sopheak’s mother, Sopheak, Me (legal intern); Taken at Sopheak’s home.

A few months ago, Sopheak, his girlfriend, and another couple (who were classmates of his) were enjoying the typical night out as teenagers. They had gone out to eat, and were hanging out around town. At the end of the night, Sopheak and his friends returned home to spend the night at his house, but they realized there were too many people and it was too loud to sleep, so they booked two rooms at a local guesthouse. Sopheak and his girlfriend slept in one room, while the other couple slept in a separate room. However, one of the teens staying in the other room was a 14-year-old girl, and her parents became very upset upon learning that their daughter had spent the night out. Although the girl was in a separate room from Sopheak and had slept over Sopheak’s house prior to this incident, her parents subsequently filed a complaint with the police and Sopheak found himself in a completely unanticipated position.

Sopheak, a 17 year-old boy who had spent the night in a guesthouse room with his girlfriend, had been accused of rape by the 14 year-old girl’s parents, despite the fact that he and his girlfriend had stayed in a different room and he had had no physical contact with the young girl.

Luckily, Sopheak was quickly referred to International Bridges to Justice by two separate sources: a woman who worked at the Battambang court, and a neighborhood friend who had attended one of IBJ’s Community Legal Awareness sessions in their commune. Clearly, as this case demonstrates, IBJ’s outreach to the Battambang court and community is making an impact and helping those accused of crimes gain legal counsel. Because these sources put Sopheak in contact with IBJ early in the process, IBJ’s lawyers were able to help Sopheak through every step, starting with procedure and investigation and continuing through trial. However, while awaiting trial, Sopheak was forced to stay in a four by four meter cell with twenty other minors for the three to four months that he was in detention awaiting his trial. Under these extreme conditions, Sopheak found sleeping very difficult, and says that there was not enough food for him to eat. While his family was able to visit him, they could only make around two trips each month.

Sopheak’s lawyer communicated the true account of what happened that night to the judge, which was corroborated by the young girl herself, and successfully refuted the allegations made by the young girl’s parents. Found innocent, Sopheak was acquitted of the false crime he was charged with and could put the past few months behind him. Without this help, Sopheak may have received an unfair trial and believes he would have had to “stay [in prison for a] long time”. Upon his release on May 20th of this year, after three to four months in detention, Sopheak says he was “feeling great” and “very happy” to return to his commune. Although he had to suspend his schooling while he was imprisoned, he has now restarted school and is in Grade 9. Justice was served for Sopheak!

(Sothea (lawyer), Sopheak, Sopheak’s mother, Me (legal intern); Taken at their home.)

Sothea (lawyer), Sopheak, Sopheak’s mother, Me (legal intern); Taken at their home.

*Name has been changed.