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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Acid mutilation a misdemeanor

Acid mutilation a misdemeanor

Acid mutilation a misdemeanor

Som Rasmey, whose life has been destroyed, must now live with the pain of knowing

her attacker will not spend one day in jail.

T

he first case of a viciously mutilated acid attack victim pressing charges against

her assailant has shocked legal observers by resulting in a two year suspended sentence

against the suspect.

On Dec 27, 2000 the Kampong Cham Municipal Court convicted Minh Rinath, 44, of assault

and battery for a Nov 6,1999 acid attack that has permanently disfigured 22 year

old Som Rasmey.

Kampong Cham Municipal Court Judge Tith Sothy dismissed a petition by Rasmey's lawyers

to upgrade the charges against Rinath to the felony offense of voluntary manslaughter

to reflect the seriousness of the crime. Sothy justified his ruling on the grounds

that Ranath had no intention of killing Rasmey but only sought to "...damage

her beauty because of jealousy".

Rinath's two year suspended sentence, which ensures she will never spend a day in

jail, dismayed observers from the Cambodian Office of the United Nations High Commission

on Human Rights (COUNHCHR) who monitored the trial proceedings.

"We are very disappointed," a COUNHCHR spokesperson said following the

verdict. "This woman [Rasmey] could have died and she's been scarred for the

rest of her life so it should have been judged as a felony, not a misdemeanor."

The COUNHCHR spokesman told the Post that the court's handling of the case and the

verdict had been riddled with inconsistencies.

"Even though Rinath confessed to the crime, she was never put in pre-trial detention

and then never even bothered to show up in court," the spokesperson said. "Then

the judge refused to consider Rasmey's application for compensation, disregarding

the fact that under Cambodian law compensation claims can be considered in a criminal

case."

Rasmey's lawyer Touch Volak questioned the seriousness of Judge Sothy's consideration

of the evidence, noting that on several occasions while Rasmey recounted the circumstances

of the crime Sothy interrupted and scolded her for wasting the court's time "...talking

about romance".

The court's verdict compounds the physical, mental and emotional agonies endured

by Rasmey since Rinath and four hired accomplices held her to the ground on Nov 6

1999 and poured two bottles of hydrochloric acid over her head, arms and back. The

attack was apparently motivated by Rinath's jealousy over Rasmey's relationship with

Rinath's husband, Colonel Lim Sok Heng of RCAF's Region 2 in Kampong Cham.

Som Rasmey, whose life has been destroyed, must now live with the pain of knowing

her attacker will not spend one day in jail.

At the time of the attack Rinath also seized Rasmey's newborn baby daughter, whom

Rasmey has never seen or heard of again.

Three days after the attack, Sok Heng abducted Rasmey from her hospital bed and took

her illegally to Ho Chi Minh City, where he confined her until she was able to escape

on May 1, 2000 and make her way by motorcycle taxi back to Phnom Penh.

In spite of threats of violence made by Rinath and Sok Heng against both her and

her family, on May 7 Rasmey filed criminal charges against Rinath that included a

demand of $50,000 in compensation and the return of her daughter.

The court's verdict and refusal to consider her demands for access to her baby and

compensation have left Rasmey devastated.

"I was born a natural beauty but now it is totally destroyed [and] I have never

received news whether my daughter is alive or dead," she said after the verdict

was handed down. "Rinath's attack was an attempt to kill me...the defense lawyer

and the judge were very unfair and I feel very upset because they protect a criminal."

Rasmey said that her disfigurement has obstructed her attempts to rebuild the semblance

of a normal life, saying that she had recently had to give up a roadside food stall

her family had helped her to establish because "...people are too frightened

and disgusted by my condition to do business with me."

Attempts by the Post to discover Rinath's whereabouts led to her luxurious five story

apartment on Street 63 in Phnom Penh.

Standing in front of a large photo of Lim Sok Heng shaking the hand of Prime Minister

Hun Sen, a youth who identified himself as Rinath's son told the Post that his mother

was currently in Laos negotiating a logging deal. The youth claimed to be unaware

that his mother had been charged with any crime and said he did not know when his

mother or father would be home.

Rasmey's lawyers plan to appeal the court's decision.

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