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.

J. Salomé

One night, a group of 8 people went out for a dinner at Serey 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 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 joke about the voice of the singer. The other men did not share his sense of humor and started to threaten him just because of the remark he made. Serey tried to apologize but one of the men stood up and became aggressive. Pech, Serey’s brother, ran up to stop the fight but was pushed to the ground by another member of the group. 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 worsened.

The following day, the police came to the restaurant to arrest Pech. He was subsequently  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 fight, 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 the 7th of  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. Due to the lack of 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 remains in a delicate state.

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 dreams of having a successful restaurant and contribute to her community come true.

(1) Names changed.