Category Archives: Cambodia

IBJ’s Radio Programs Help Lead to Early Access to Council in Cambodia

Jeanne Salomé

September 2014

Mr. Kheng and Nou Chandeth, the IBJ lawyer in Kampong Thom office

Mr. Kheng and Nou Chandeth, the IBJ lawyer in Kampong Thom office

In June 2014, while riding his moto home from his mother’s place, a man named Kheng[1] was arrested by the police in Kampong Thom province. He did not understand what was happening, and got into a fight with the police officers at the moment of the arrest. They brought him into police custody to interrogate him. In fact, Kheng had been arrested in suspicion of being the perpetrator of a violent theft which had occurred the previous day in Siem Reap province. Kheng himself wasn’t even aware of this incident as he was in no way involved. Alerted by their colleagues in Siem Reap, the police officers in Kampong Thom were looking for suspects and had decided to arrest Kheng as he drove by, possibly because he had been charged in the past with use of an illegal weapon.

While in police custody, the victim of the offense came from Siem Reap to identify the suspect. She firmly denied that it was Kheng, recognizing that his physical appearance was very different from that of the criminal. Nonetheless, the police decided to keep Kheng detained for further interrogation. Kheng told them upfront that he did not know anything about the offense and that he was just driving home from his mother’s place at the time of the arrest. However, the police officers wrote in the records that he had committed the offense and pleaded guilty. Unfortunately, when the police officers gave him the records to sign, he was not able to read through them correctly; the light was faint and his eyes were bruised due to the prior altercation with police officers. These circumstances resulted in Kheng being sent to prison in pretrial detention.

Luckily for Kheng, he had heard about IBJ through the organization’s radio broadcasts which explain what a legal aid lawyer is and how to contact the nearest provincial Defender Resource Center. After two months in pretrial detention, he was finally able to ask his family to contact the IBJ lawyer in Kampong Thom province, so there was an IBJ defense lawyer available to represent him at trial In February.

As the police records were wrong, Kheng delivered a different, but true, version of events at the trial. The lawyer raised the issue that inculpatory evidence was only coming from the police records. He called Kheng’s mother to testify before the court, providing an alibi for her son as they were together before the arrest. He also called the actual victim of the incident, who reiterated that Kheng was not the perpetrator. Finally, the IBJ lawyer stated that the Cambodian Constitution and Criminal Code maintain that the accused should always be given the benefit of the doubt. By May the judges issued their decision, resulting in an acquittal for Kheng.

In total, Kheng spent 9 months and 21 days in prison. He was detained in a 10 by 5 meter cell, over-crowded with more than 60 prisoners. He could only meet his family once or twice a month for 10 to 15 minutes each time. Though he strongly felt the injustice of his situation, he remained confident that he would see justice. He was worried about his wife as well, who was pregnant with their second child at the time. She was left alone to tend to their farm while he was detained.  Fortunately for Kheng, he had learned about his right to a lawyer from IBJ’s radio program. He is very thankful for IBJ and their work and will continue to spread the word about the existence of free legal aid services.

 

[1] Name changed.

“IBJ Offered Me A Rebirth:” Defense Lawyers Help Free One Tortured Man

Charlène Buisson

17 September 2014

On September 17, 2014, we went to Prey Veng province to visit Theara, a former IBJ client recently released after being acquitted. Theara’s house is only 40 kilometers away from IBJ’s provincial Defender Resource Center, yet it took us nearly three hours to drive there  considering the rain and mud. IBJ Lawyer Mr. Prak Phin and his assistant Mr. Leang Sina drove us through many green paddy fields until we finally arrived in the early afternoon where we met Theara with his family to tell us his story.

On the road to the village

On the road to the village

Back on December 17, 2013, Theara and his wife suddenly woke up at 8: 30pm after hearing a gunshot. His mother in law, living in the house next door, wanted to see what was happening and Theara’s wife asked him to go with her mother. When they arrived at the neighbor’s house where the noise had come from, a lot of villagers were already there. A group of four men had apparently gone into the house with guns to rob the owners. They kicked the husband, bound his hands and threatened his wife, asking for her jewelry and cash. According to the victims, they stole a total of 12 million riels (about 3,000 US$) and an additional 1,545 US$.

By the time the villagers and later the police officers arrived at the scene, the four men were already gone. Nevertheless, the victim’s wife said she recognized Theara as one of the men who had just robbed her. She said that she heard the perpetrators speaking in a particular dialect which was, according to her, only known by Theara in the village.

Theara and his two daughters in front of their house

Theara and his two daughters in front of their house

With no further investigation, the police officers arrested Theara and took him to the police station for further interrogation. While in police custody, the officers told Theara to confess and demanded to know the names of the other perpetrators. When he denied being involved, they started to kick his left leg, which was already weak, again and again for several hours. No one informed him about his right to a lawyer and he had never heard of legal aid services. After two days in police custody, Theara was sent to Prey Veng prison where he endured an overcrowded cell and harsh conditions.

This story shows once again how proper investigation techniques in Cambodia are less often used. Due to a lack of means and will, arresting someone and making him/her confess is still the more convenient and cheapest way of solving a crime for the police.

After a few months in prison, a court clerk finally asked Theara if he had a lawyer. As he did not, the investigating judge appointed him IBJ Lawyer Mr. Prak Pin. The first time they met, Theara felt stressed, but was also relieved not to be alone anymore. From the moment he met Prak Pin, he trusted him and knew he had a chance to get out of prison.

IBJ lawyer Prak Phin & Theara

IBJ lawyer Prak Phin & Theara

On August 28, 2014, after more than 8 months of detention, the trial finally took place. Theara was accused of theft with violence, punishable by imprisonment from three to ten years according to article 357 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. The IBJ defense lawyer brought exculpatory pieces of evidence before the court, including 8 eyewitnesses, one of which was the victim’s aunt, and 58 villagers’ testimonies (including the village and commune chiefs) attesting to Theara’s alibi and innocence.

On September 3, 2014, the judge issued his verdict: Theara was acquitted. He was released five days later. He immediately went to take care of his mother in Battambang province (450 km from Prey Veng) who had fallen ill while he was in prison. Theara is now taking care of his mother and working to cure his left leg before returning back to work as a fruit picker in a few months.

While Theara was detained, his 16 and 17 year old daughters had to work at a factory to support the rest of the family, including a three year old baby, while his wife was forced to take out a loan.

Though he is now back in his village, he has yet to see the neighbors who accused him of theft and is afraid of meeting them again.  “I have a family to feed and a loan to reimburse, so I need to work as soon as possible and avoid problems.” Unfortunately, this is also the reason why he will not be suing his neighbors for compensation or prosecute the police for ill-treatment.

Prak Phin, provincial lawyer (right) and Leang Sina, provincial investigator (left)

Prak Phin, provincial lawyer (right) and Leang Sina, provincial investigator (left)

Theara is very thankful to IBJ and their defense lawyers. He concluded by saying “ {An} IBJ lawyer found justice for me. I {could} never thank you enough. Without a lawyer, I would probably still be in prison. IBJ offered me a rebirth!

IBJ Cambodia Convenes Prisoners and Officers for Legal Rights Awareness Event in Ratanakiri Prison

This week IBJ Cambodia conducted a legal awareness discussion on the rights of prisoners for the detainees and prison officers in Ratanakiri’s provincial prison. Two sessions were held, once in the morning and again later that afternoon. At the second session, 20 prisoners attended, six of whom were women. There were additionally five prison guards, two of which were women, making it 52 participants in total. As part of IBJ’s Legal Aid outreach program, Rights Awareness Events are held frequently in an effort to educate the public on their basic rights within the criminal justice system.

IBJ a organisé une séance de sensibilisation juridique sur les droits de prisonniers pour les détenus et les fonctionnaires pénitentiaires dans la prison privinciale de Ratanakiri. Dans le cadre d’un effort visant à sensibiliser le public aux leurs droits fondamentaux, IBJ organise régulièrement les événements de sensibilisation juridique qui font partie de Programme de l’aide juridique d’IBJ.

កម្មវិធីផ្សព្វផ្សាយច្បាប់របស់អង្គការ
ស្ពានយុត្តិធម៌អន្តរជាតិIBJស្តីពីច្បាប់
និងសិទ្ឋិសម្រាប់អ្នកជាប់ពន្ឋនាគារ ដល់ជនជាប់ឃំុ និងមន្រ្តីពន្ឋនាគារ នៅពន្ឋនាគារខេត្តរតនគិរី ។

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Photos generously provided by Sophoes Phon

IBJ Legal Fellow Thanked by Young Client at Prison Gates

Last Friday, IBJ Legal Fellow Kan Seng Houth met the man he helped free outside the gates of the Kompong Thom Provincial Prison in Cambodia. The young man expressed his deepest gratitude to Houth and to all the members of International Bridges to Justice Cambodia for coming to his defense. The two are pictured below, just after his release.

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Photos graciously provided by Kan Seng Houth

 

IBJ Brings Community Together for Legal Rights Awareness Event in Kampongthom Provence

The Defender Resource Center in Cambodia often puts together Legal Rights Awareness events with posters and brochures, radio campaigns, and community education events. On August 8th, 2014 IBJ lawyers and investigators hosted a Legal Rights Awareness Campaign where prisoner officers and defendants came together for a roundtable discussion at the Kampongthom Provincial Prison. By reviewing basic rights and answering questions,  IBJ helped individuals better understand the Cambodian legal system.

Legal Rights Awareness Campaign for Prison Officers and Defendants

Legal Rights Awareness Campaign for Prison Officers and Defendants

Meeting in Kampongthom Provincial Prison

Meeting in Kampongthom Provincial Prison

IBJ Lawyers and Defenders answer questions

IBJ Lawyers and Defenders answer questions

Prison Officials and Defendants come together

Prison Officers and Defendants coming together

 

Photos generously provided by Kan Seng Houth 

IBJ Lawyers Intervene to Save Young Boy After Forced Confession

Erika Larsen, Legal Intern

July 22nd, 2014

At 16 years old, Vannak[1] found himself being interrogated by two police officers – in fear that if he did not provide a confession for crimes he knew nothing about, he would be subjected to violence. The officers did not inform him of his right to a lawyer, and he feared the “large officer” would “punish him by hit[ting] him” if he did not provide the answers they sought. Vannak “was afraid, so [he] did what they said” and ‘confessed’ to serving as an accomplice to intentional damage to property and intentional violence – crimes which, given these particular circumstances, would warrant up to 15 years in prison and over 10 million riel ($2,000 USD) in fines[2].

Vannak’s friend had been in a fight a few days before police stopped Vannak in an internet shop and arrested him last November. Vannak had heard about the fight, but had no idea that since then his friend had attacked his foe with a knife, injuring the victim and damaging the victim’s house where the attack took place. When police questioned a friend of the perpetrator, he lied and implicated Vannak in the crime. However, the day the attack took place, Vannak had been hanging out with a friend, playing volleyball amongst other things.  When the police questioned Vannak, he was forced to give a coerced confession for a crime he was unaware even happened.

Vannak sharing

Vannak recounts his experience in prison

After six hours in the police post, which is almost two hours from the Battambang/Thailand border-town where Vannak lives with his mother, Vannak was allowed to call his mother, and then was taken to the prison. However, because necessary prison admission forms had not been signed, and it was too late at night to find a judge to do so, Vannak was brought back to the police post where he slept for one night. It was not until his hearing the next morning that the judge informed him he should have a lawyer. The court clerk referred Vannak’s mother to IBJ when she arrived at the courthouse, after frantically rushing from their town to the Battambang court – a costly journey that she had to take multiple times during this ordeal.

After meeting with Vannak’s mother just a few days after Vannak’s arrest, Sothea (the provincial lawyer here in DRC 6) took on Vannak’s case in its earliest stages. The investigating judge dismissed the case against Vannak after Sothea presented Vannak’s friend who had spent the day with him on the date of the incident as a witness. Sothea further pointed out that there was no evidence indicating Vannak’s involvement in this crime.

Although the investigating judge dismissed the charges, the dismissal did not occur until after Vannak spent 15 days inside the prison. I wrote previously about the conditions a minor kept in the prison here in Battambang can face (see http://ow.ly/yDZ58), and the conditions Vannak faced were very similar. He spent his days in a five by five meter cell with 20 other inmates, finding both sleep and food scarce, but able to use his mornings for exercise. Vannak felt he was lucky, as he said new prisoners were often made to stay in the bathrooms until space opened up in the cells; however, because the prison guards took a liking to him, he instead stayed in the overcrowded cell.

Me (legal intern), Vannak[1], Vannak’s Mother, Kalyan (lawyer assistant); Taken at their home.

Me (legal intern), Vannak[1], Vannak’s Mother, Kalyan (lawyer assistant); Taken at their home.

Upon his release, Vannak says he was “absolutely happy.” As was his mother, who had spent each day crying because she “knew it was a mistake” and kept wondering “why they [were doing this] to her son.” As a single mother who makes only $100 per month as the owner of a pharmacy, she was unable to visit him because the prison was too far and she had already spent much of her income traveling to the IBJ office. Her sister attempted to visit but the guards refused to let her in because Vannak had only been in prison for a few days and their policy only allows for visits every 15 days. Needless to say, Vannak’s mother was “very happy” upon her young son’s release. Now 17, Vannak is in the process of completing 12th grade with hopes of becoming a doctor. Thankfully, false accusations and a coerced confession will no longer hold him back as he completes his education.

 

[1] Name changed for client’s privacy.

[2] Art. 29, 218, 414, Cambodia Criminal Code (CCC) (2009).

Justice Has No Limits: IBJ Lawyers Travel Hours to Reach People in Remotest Areas to Help Them Seek Justice

IBJ lawyers and investigators go to great lengths on a daily basis in an effort to provide legal aid to those most in need. It is critical for our legal fellows to be fully engaged in the communities in which IBJ works, taking an active role in creating systemic social and legal change. Lawyers Kan Seng Houth and Nou Chandeth often travel from IBJ’s Kampong Thom Defender Resource Centre to the most remote provinces of Cambodia to offer their free legal services.

Living Conditions in Kampong Thom Province

Living Conditions in Kampong Thom Province

Nou Chandeth, IBJ's Legal Fellow in the Province

Nou Chandeth, IBJ’s Legal Fellow in the Province

IBJ Works with Those Most in Need

IBJ Reaching Those Most in Need

 

 

Pictures graciously provided by IBJ lawyer and investigator Kan Seng Houth. 

 

Not Even Floods Can Stop IBJ Lawyers

Conditions in Cambodia have presented challenges for the lawyers and investigators of International Bridges to Justice working to provide legal aid and assistance throughout the country. Recently, heavy rain has caused flooding in the Stung Treng Province. Those working in the Defender Resource Centers (DRCs) have been forced to travel by boat to meet clients, conduct legal aid awareness campaigns, and even to access the court house.

 

Meeting clients at the Stung Treng Court House

Entering the  Stung Treng Provincial Court House

IBJ Investigator Sophoes Phon from the Ratanakiri DRC

IBJ Investigator Sophoes Phon from the Ratanakiri DRC

Entering the court house

Stung Treng Provincial Court House

IBJ Lawyer Mao Sari also from the Ratanakiri DRC

IBJ Lawyer Mao Sari also from the Ratanakiri DRC

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Meeting clients at the Stung Treng Provincial Court House

 

Man Sees Freedom After Being Charged for Unintended Crime

March 2014

 Megan Williams

IBJ lawyers came to the aid of a man named Mr. Dara En from Kampong Thom Province in Cambodia by reducing his sentence for a crime he was unaware of committing.

Mr. En is a 19-year-old male that was 18 years of age when the alleged crime took place, living with his parents and siblings in a small village.  Along with the other members of his family, he work hard to provide for his younger siblings and extended family, helping with daily work on their small farm.

Mr. En was arrested by police for cutting down trees in the forest without authorization. At the time of the incident Mr. En did not know that it was illegal to cut down the trees without prior authorization. He was arrested along with 5 others on September 9, 2013 while returning home from work. Mr. En was taken to the local police station where he was held for 24 hours before being transferred to prison where he would remain for four months before his case was brought to trial.

When asked about his experience of being arrested, Mr. En stated that he was in shock and disbelief over what had happened. He did not realize that he was committing a crime and believing his life was over had IBJ not intervened. When taken to the police station, Mr. En states that although conditions at the prison were not ideal, he was not treated badly and police did not torture or ask him for money. Before Mr. En was arrested, he was unaware of the services that IBJ offered. He found out about IBJ through his parents who contacted an IBJ lawyer on their son’s behalf. Before the lawyer arrived, Mr. En was not aware of his legal rights, including the right to an attorney should he request one. Mr. En stated that without the help of IBJ he would still be in prison serving his 1 year sentence.

With the help of an IBJ lawyer, his sentence was reduced to 5 months. This was due in part to the research and due diligence of the IBJ lawyer as well as the cooperation of Mr. En while in police custody. The IBJ lawyer located in Kampong Thom province recounts that the technique used in this case was to review the facts and illustrate that his client did not know what he was doing was illegal. The fact that he had never been in trouble with the law before also helped his case. All this combined with the client’s good behavior while in custody helped the IBJ lawyer attain a reduced sentence for Mr. En.

Mr. En feels happy and extremely grateful to IBJ for assisting him through this process. He feels everyone was supportive and helpful in getting him through this difficult time. Mr. En is now fully aware of his human and legal rights, thanks in part to IBJ’s legal aid services. He never wants something like this to happen again and will be more careful in the future. If something similar was to ever happen to someone he knows, Mr. En will be sure to inform them of their rights so they will not have to experience what he went through before IBJ was able to come to his assistance.

 

 

 

 

 

Early Access to Council Helps Free Young Woman in Phnom Penh

Jake Mooney

July  2014

Ms. Thyda[1] is 24- year-old woman living in a small house with her family on the side of an abandoned railway in Phnom Penh. Her house is part of a community of pieced-together houses, colloquially referred to as a slum. It is in this very same community where the incident leading to her detention and upcoming trial occurred. Her possible charge is intentional violence with aggression.

IBJ lawyer Ms. Chan Reaseypheak, Thyda and IBJ intern Jake Mooney

IBJ lawyer Ms. Chan Reaseypheak, Thyda and IBJ intern Jake Mooney

It all began when her monthly 64-dollar paycheck went missing from her locker, which she suspects was stolen. In order to pay her bills, she was forced to ask a man from her community for a loan. Unfortunately, Ms. Thyda caught him at the wrong time as he was on his porch visibly intoxicated. He started calling her names, belligerently insulting her and her family. He then proceeded to throw food and metal objects at her. Eventually the situation escalated into a physical altercation. It is at this point that an unknown group of men arrived and proceeded to beat the man up. Though she left quickly, Ms. Thyda did not escape without being severely beaten.

Ms. Thyda was aware of the fact that this man was a government informant living in the slums to provide information about the goings-on in the community. This frightened her because these connections made him a dangerous man to upset and could mean extreme prejudice and injustice against her. As it turns out, he was so upset that he called his friends at the police station and blamed the entire incident on this young woman who had come to him for help.

The police asked Ms. Thyda to come give her statement at the station. Since she felt she did nothing wrong, she went to the station right away. However, instead of taking her statement they decided to keep her in custody until the investigation started. She was not informed of any time limit on her custody and feared that she could be kept there indefinitely. It is hard to say how long she may have stayed had International Bridges to Justice not intervened.

There is no time limit, no oversight; she could have been detained for however long they saw fit. As no charges were made, Ms. Thyda was not read her rights. She was thrown into a damp10x10 foot cell with no light other than a 4×6 inch window. The conditions were deplorable. There was no bed, sheets, or ventilation at all. Though prison conditions are already poor, custody conditions are even less monitored due to the fact that they are meant to be short term holding facilities. Conditions vary from lush cells, usually reserved for the wealthy, to what Ms. Thyda unfortunately experienced. She was in custody for five days during which time she was provided absolutely no food or water. Luckily her family was able to bring her what little sustenance they could afford to keep her going. Looking back at those five long days in the custody, Ms. Thyda said, “I felt absolutely hopeless. I was hungry, tired, scared and I knew that nobody was coming to help me. I felt depressed because at this point, my life seemed to be over.”[2]

Thyda and her family, IBJ intern Jake Mooney and IBJ lawyer Ms Chan Reaseypheak (in the middle)

Thyda and her family, IBJ intern Jake Mooney and IBJ lawyer Ms. Chan Reaseypheak (middle)

IBJ is known by many other organizations in Cambodia as one of the only viable options to turn in a situation like this. There are groups that particularly try to look after service workers in Phnom Penh. Luckily, the restaurant Ms. Thyda works for is connected to one such group that specifically looks after women who work night jobs. After hearing about her situation, the organization contacted IBJ for help. An IBJ attorney was able to meet with Ms. Thyda the very next day, listen to her story, and get her released from custody that same day. Since there were no existing charges, there was no bail or hearing.

As Ms. Thyda’s case demonstrates, early access to council is essential. Lawyers play an integral role in advocating and protecting prisoner’s rights within the legal system. Ms. Thyda could have easily been in custody for months before any investigation even started. She has not been charged with anything yet, but if she is, IBJ will be by her side defending her rights every step of the way.

 

[1] Name Changed (French)

[2]  Translated from English