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.

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