Category Archives: Cambodia

June Success Story: A Broken Heart and a Family Reunion

 

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.

Released on Bail, Father of Five Enabled to Support His Family in Need

11 June 2014

By 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.

Trusting IBJ’s Legal Aid Services: How a Client Obtained a Reduced Sentence in Pursat Province

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.

Accomplice or Victim?

18 March 2014

By 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.

Vigil in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Interfaith Peace Vigil – Insights from Cambodia

By 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

By 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.

Drug Scam

16 March 2014

J. Salomé

On 21 July 2011, Samnang(1) was getting ready in his bathroom when he heard his phone ringing in the living room. He heard his wife picking up, getting angry and going outside where he understood that she was talking to one of his friends. But apparently his friend who had called his wife out of the house was not alone: the police were there as well. Samnang heard all of them leaving and rushed to the police station himself, where he was arrested as well. All were charged with drug trafficking. Samnang was kept one day in police custody, before being transferred to the prison of Mondulkiri, in pretrial detention.

Chheang Makara, the IBJ lawyer based in Mondulkiri, received the case immediately at the police stage. According to Cambodia’s Criminal Procedure Code, the person arrested has the right to talk to a lawyer after a period of 24 hours in police custody has expired(2). Initially, Samnang was charged under article 33 of the Law on Drug Control which punishes anyone involved in drug trafficking or consumption by 10 to 20 years of imprisonment and by a fine penalty from 10 to 50 million riels ($2,500 to $12,500). Samnang explained to his lawyer that he was indeed involved in drug trafficking… Yet, he was actually used as a citizen undercover working for the police who was trying to dismantle drug trafficking networks in the area. According to the law in Cambodia, the police may involve citizens to infiltrate drug trafficking networks and report then to the authorities. The police had convinced him to play this role. However, he never obtained written evidence of this agreement nor did he receive money from the police in exchange for his help.

After more than 8 months spent in pretrial detention, Samnang and his wife were tried on 9th April 2012. The IBJ lawyer requested to change the charges brought against his client to the offense of hiding leads with the purpose of creating obstacles to finding facts, punishable by 1 to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine from 2 to 6 million riels ($500 to $1,500). He also underlined that initially, the police had arrested 3 persons: Samnang, his wife and his friend. But the latter had been released while the same allegations were brought against him. Makara requested the police to investigate equally if the three persons were charged with the same offense. He also underlined that his client had confessed the commission of the acts from the police stage. The police did not believe him and did not further investigate into his allegations. So Makara recalled to the court the background of his client, coming from a poor family with a wife that had just miscarried and who was not in proper health condition to stay in prison. The lawyer used this circumstance to request a reduced sentence to the court. The IBJ lawyer’s defense strategy proved to be efficient: the court re-characterized the facts and sentenced Samnang and his wife to 1.5 years in prison and to a fine of 10 million riels ($2,500). Both had already spent more than 8 months in pretrial detention and were released in December 2012.

1.5 years in a 2×2 m cell, with 8 or 9 other persons. In prison, there was enough food every day but the taste was insipid. Samnang’s family came often to visit. However, he was not able to meet his wife, even if they were detained in the same prison. Men and women are kept separate and they had only the chance to glimpse at each other in the prison’s yard, without being able to talk properly. Every day, he was allowed to go outside of his cell for 30 minutes to exercise, and had only 15 minutes for bath. His personal, mental strengths were challenged during detention. Sickened by the unfairness of his situation, he could not help releasing his anger in prison. One day, he hit loudly the prison door in an access of indignation… and was harshly punished by the prison authorities who beat him and use electric shocks on him. He was so desperate that he was to commit suicide, if it was not for the other prisoners to prevent him from doing so.

After he had been released, the Chief of the Anti-Drug Department contacted him again to request him to reintegrate his role, which he of course refused. He took up his former occupation again, working in the forest to find bees and sell them. He and his wife were happy to go back to their previous, normal life even if they are still bearing the prison stigma in the eyes of their neighbors. The IBJ lawyer helped him from the earliest stage of the proceedings, until the end of the trial. Samnang acknowledged that his lawyer did the best to help him, even if he did not manage to convince the judges on an acquittal. Once out of prison, Samnang made himself a voice in favor of free legal services for the accused people trying to convince those who think that it is not possible to win a case without money…


(1) Named changed.

(2) Article 98, Code of Criminal Procedure of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

IBJ Lawyer obtains an acquittal and reduced sentence for clients in Cambodia

The following case occurred following a violent eruption after a restaurant owner made a harmless remark to a group of customers. The owner’s brother, Pech, and sister-in-law, Vanny, were arrested; the former charged with attempted murder. Through the legal aid provided by IBJ lawyer, Mao Sary, Pech’s sentence was reduced and Vanny was acquitted.

By J. Salomé

One night, a group of 8 people went out to eat in Serey’s and Vanny’s(1) outdoor, family-run restaurant in Ratanakiri. After a large dinner and a couple of drinks, one of the men from the group asked Serey to come over and explained to him that they had forgotten their money. Serey agreed to let one of them go home to get some money to pay for everyone. Serey stayed around, talking with the other men from the group, when one of their phones started to ring. Surprised by the musical ringtone, Serey started to laugh and joked about the voice of the singer. The other men seemed not to share his sense of humor and started to threaten him because of the remark he made. Serey tried to apologize but one of them stood up and became aggressive. Pech, Serey’s brother, ran up to stop the fight but was pushed to the ground by one of the group members. Stunned, he ran to the kitchen and grabbed a knife to defend Serey and himself. As the fight went on, Pech hit one man’s right hand with the knife. Soon after, the whole group rushed to leave the restaurant before the situation degenerated further.

The following day, the police came to the restaurant to arrest Pech; he was charged with attempted murder. Pech’s family was in disarray: the whole incident had been triggered by a simple joke and a gross overreaction. After, by chance, passing by the IBJ office in Ratanakiri and finding out about IBJ’s legal aid services, Pech’s family got in touch with the IBJ lawyer Mao Sary, who took he case on in late February, 2013.

During the trial, the complainant alleged that Vanny, Pech’s sister-in-law who also works at the restaurant, encouraged Pech to fight with a knife. As a result, the investigating judge decided to arrest Vanny and to change the charge from attempted murder to violence causing disability to the victim. Consequently, in May 2013, almost a year after the fact, the police came back to the restaurant and arrested Vanny to put her in pretrial detention. The rest of the family was dumbfounded.

Vanny’s trial was held on 7 August 2013. By that time, Mao Sary had been building a strong defense. He pointed out the lack of evidence to charge and detain Vanny. Mao Sary brought before the court some of Vanny’s co-workers and relatives as eyewitnesses. In their testimonies, they recalled that while Vanny did shout at Pech, it was to try to stop the fight, not to encourage it. The IBJ lawyer insisted on the fact that the complainant and his friends, by not having money to pay for their bill, triggered the incident. He argued that Vanny and her family should not bear the consequences of the complainant’s propensity to fight. In addition, the complainant’s witness provided confusing information in his testimony. In front of the lack of and weak character of the evidence against Vanny, the judge decided to acquit her. Concurrently, Mao Sary obtained a reduced sentence for Pech: from a maximum of 15 years of imprisonment for attempted murder to 6.

Vanny was released on the day of the trial, having spent 3 months in pretrial detention. During those 3 months, she became very depressed and her health became weaker, all-the-while Mao Sary visited her in prison and did his best to reassure her. Due to her time in detention, her health is still delicate. Vanny finds some solace in the fact that she was able to receive legal aid from IBJ because she is well-aware that she would have spent much more time in detention without the help of a lawyer. While Vanny did not know her legal rights before, she is now aware of her right to a lawyer and understands the advantages of having a legal professional to represent a case. She is now helping to spread the word about IBJ within her community and explains how free legal aid services helped her to regain her liberty. Since her release, she works hard to make her dream come true: to have a successful restaurant and contribute to her community.


(1) Names changed.

Falsely accused

by Megan Williams

March 2014

IBJ was recently successful in helping a client named Mr. Hung Jaya from Banteay Meanchey province. Mr. Jaya was originally charged with theft of a motorbike and cell phone.  Mr. Jaya lives with his family in a small village in Banteay Meanchey.  He works very hard to provide for his family some of who are elderly.

Mr. Jaya who had received a call from his cousin one evening asked him to meet him.  When Mr. Jaya arrived he found out his cousin had made a call to him from a stolen cell phone and was in possession of a stolen motorbike.  When the police were made aware of the situation they could not find Mr. Jaya’s cousin and instead arrested him for the crime. Mr. Jaya was held in the police station for 2 days while waiting to be transferred to the prison.  Throughout this time he consistently proclaimed his innocence.  In fact, at the time of Mr. Jaya’s arrest he believed that all this was a mistake and that he would not be charged, but to his surprise he was charged for the crime.  Mr. Jaya felt terrified and did not know what to do or how to provide for his family while he was in jail.  He knew his family could not afford a lawyer and at the time of his arrest Mr. Jaya did not know all his legal rights.

It was not until one evening when Mr. Jaya was listening to the radio while in prison that he heard an advertisement for IBJ services. After contacting IBJ and talking with an IBJ lawyer about his case he was made aware of his rights.  IBJ helped him gather the necessary information to present to the judge.  Mr. Jaya was later acquitted of all charges against him.  This was due to the help of the IBJ lawyer’s research of the facts about the case and the eventual arrest and confession of the crime from his cousin.  Mr. Jaya said he helped law enforcement locate his cousin for an eventual arrest.  Mr. Jaya since getting out of jail says he is relieved that he was acquitted and is able to go back to his normal life of providing for his family.  Without IBJ Mr. Jaya stated he might very well still be in prison for a crime he did not commit.

When speaking with the IBJ lawyer involved in the case, the lawyer stated that it was a difficult case in the beginning because there were no witnesses and no one could find the cousin.  The case became a lot less difficult when the cousin was arrested and confessed to the crime.

IBJ lawyer, IBJ clients and IBJ lawyer’s assistant in front of the IBJ office, in the court yard of Battambang provincial Court.

A False Crime Arose From Jealousy

By Da-Eun Seok

BattambangJanuary 2014

On a beautiful morning, two young, pretty girls entered into the IBJ office in Battambang, located behind the Provincial Court. They put their hands together and rose them up to their nose, greeting with the words “Chhum-Reap-Ssu-a”, “hello” in Khmer. They sat down, and we started to talk about what happened to them and to their other sister.

At quarter to nine, on 17th August 2011, Kanika (the oldest sister), Chenda (the second sister) and Cheata (the youngest sister), were selling cans of juice on the street as they do every day. On that specific day, they were putting more efforts in their work because they were worried about their mother who was sick, and wanted to earn enough money to be able to support her. While two customers were buying several cans of juice from their shop, Sophea, a woman who had also a small shop with similar goods in the neighborhood, was observing them. Seeing that customers seemed more interested by the three sisters’ shop, Sophea grew a feeling of jealousy and greediness. She started to insult the young sisters and seemed ready to trigger a fight. To Sophea’s injurious words, Kanika, Chenda, and Cheata replied that they were just selling juice for their living. Nonetheless, the fight became fiercer and the four ladies came to blows. During the fight, the only person who was injured was the youngest sister; Cheata. Shortly afterwards, the police came alerted by some neighbors, and Sophea pretended that she was knocked unconscious. Even though Sophea had not been hurt, she deceitfully used the circumstance that she was pregnant to draw attention to her so-called fragility. As the police was stepping in, they questioned all the people involved in the fight. The three siblings answered that they did not commit any crime, nor hit anyone.

The day after, the three of them were summoned to the police station. But what they had to tell to the authorities was not different: they reiterated that they did not initiate the fight and did not hit Sophea. Fortunately, the police did not deem necessary to keep them in provisional detention and they were able to go back home after the interrogation. However, three weeks later, the court summoned and informed them that they were all charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances against Sophea. The court also indicated that Sophea was seeking compensation for 4 million riels. (About 1,000 USD).

Before the trial, the court informed Kanika, Chenda and Cheata of their right to choose a lawyer and told them about IBJ. These sisters had never heard of the organization before, but they decided to contact the IBJ lawyer, looking for help. IBJ received this case on 1st December 2012 and the trial was held 9 months later, on 23th August, 2013. Sophea came to the hearing with some of her family members as witnesses, although none of them saw the suspected crime. With the help of the IBJ lawyer, the three girls brought proper eye-witnesses to provide their testimony to the court. They reiterated that they did not commit any offense, a consistent statement since the coming out of the case. During his speech for defense, the IBJ lawyer underlined the weak probative value of Sophea’s piece of evidence, as her family members were not even present on the scene of the alleged offense. Moreover, he pointed out the fact that there was no evidence of injury against Sophea. Consequently, the court dismissed the proofs brought by the latter. The verdict was issued on September 20th 2013, epitomizing the effectiveness of IBJ’s lawyer defense strategy: the three sisters were acquitted.

Kanika, Chenda and Cheata, were able to resume their work. In their family, these three girls are all in charge of the small business of selling fruit drinks. As their other siblings, they have to be involved to support their relatives. They have two more brothers, including one living in Thailand and working with their father. All of them have to work hard in order to earn enough money to support their familial living.

Kanika, Chenda and Cheata said that they were happy to meet the IBJ lawyer because they could not have defended themselves at trial without his representation. The oldest sister, Kanika, told me that she felt infuriated by the situation she had to face, when she did not commit any crime. She strongly felt a sentiment of injustice for her and her sisters. While all of them were feeling insecure at first as they did not know the role of a lawyer, they now understand it and keep spreading the word to the people about IBJ’s work as a legal aid NGO.

IBJ lawyer, IBJ clients and IBJ lawyer’s assistant in front of the IBJ office, in the court yard of Battambang provincial Court.

IBJ lawyer, IBJ clients and IBJ lawyer’s assistant in front of the IBJ office, in the court yard of Battambang provincial Court.