When IBJ first met Makara in 2009, IBJ’s provincial lawyer in Pursat successfully defended him against a murder charge. The prosecution appealed and as is usual practice, he remained in detention until an appeal date was assigned. He felt betrayed by the justice system. He was stressed because he knew he would have to spend a longer period of time in detention. But he knew IBJ would continue to fight for his case. IBJ’s appeal lawyer successfully re-investigated and provided witnesses to prove his innocence once again. In late December 2012 the Appeal Court acquitted his case once again.
He was first detained in October 2008. Today, 15 January 2013, after two hours in the scorching sun, we saw him walk out of prison a free man. His comments were heartbreaking stating:
“My head feels dizzy being a free man. I have never been to Phnom Penh and it is so busy. It is strange to be free and out of my cell. There has been so much change.”
Before his arrest he worked as a fisherman with his father providing for his parents and three siblings. He had no idea of what a lawyer was and how they could help. Amazingly a prison guard told him about IBJ, indicating the strength of the relationship IBJ’s Pursat office has with prisons in both Pursat and Kampong Chhnang.
During his time in detention he was allowed up to one or two hours outside of his cell that he shared with up to 100 prisoners. He was given two very small portions of rice, and sometimes fish. As is usual with Cambodian culture, he did not complain. He accepted his fate and the injustice that was afforded to him.
This young man has spent an unnecessary four years in prison only to be acquitted a second time. He is now 22 and his life is forever changed. When asked what he would like to do in the future he stated that he wanted to become more literate. So after purchasing some shoes, IBJ’s Project Officer bought some Khmer and English literary books. Of all the books he chose the most inspiring was one titled “100 Ways To Motivate Others.” This young man is an inspiration.
This Appeal Case was supported by UNOHCHR.
*Kate Flower is an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID), an AusAID and Australian government initiative.