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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Acquittal for abused woman

Acquittal for abused woman

A pregnant woman who had a miscarriage after being imprisoned has been found not

guilty of theft and had her confession thrown out of court.

The acquittal

- believed to be one of the first-ever in the Cambodian justice system - came

after the woman told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court she was tortured into giving

the confession.

Kim Phal, 29, a divorcee from Takeo, told the court at

her trial on Dec 10 that she was kept with little food and water,and slapped and

burned with cigarettes by the police.

She said she had considered hanging

herself in police custody. At one stage a policeman had taunted her, saying: "I

thought you would have hanged yourself already".

Court president Judge

Oum Sarith dismissed her confession, the only evidence the police had offered

against her, and said there was no proof of her having committed any

crime.

Kim Phal had earlier been freed on bail so she could be

hospitalized, after she began hemorrhaging in the capital's T3 prison. The day

after her release on bail, she had a miscarriage.

She had been arrested

in Phnom Penh on Nov 30 for allegedly stealing property from a house.

Kim

Phal told the court she used to be a farmer on Takeo province but, after her

divorce, moved to Phnom Penh to make a living selling vegetables.

She

said that on Nov 30 she went to a house to look for her aunt, who had moved. She

saw a man leave another house, whose owner later came out complaining about a

theft.

The man she had seen pointed to her, accusing her of being the

thief, before he left the scene.

The house-owner called the police and

had her arrested, though she tried to explain that she had seen her accuser

coming out the house.

In tears, she told the court she was taken to a

police station where she denied the theft.

She showed the judge scars on

her hands she said were from cigarette burns the police inflicted on her. She

said was slapped around the face, and her hearing in on ear had still not

recovered.

She said she was kept in a small toilet at the station for a

day, given only a bowl of water.

She remained there for another five

days, with only one bottle of water to last her that time. She was given food

once or twice a day.

"I thought that if I was still in that terrible

situation only one more day, I would suicide by hanging," she said in her

statement to the court.

After five days she was taken from the toilet by

the policeman who asked why she had not hanged herself by now, and interrogated

again.

Taken to court for the first time, she collapsed on the floor and

told the judge "Yes, I did steal". She said she confessed for fear of being

tortured again if she didn't.

She was sent to T3 prison, where the people

were nice - "they did not torture me" - and treated her wounds.

She later

felt pains in her abdomen and began bleeding, before miscarrying the following

day at Calmette Hospital.

Kim Phal was represented at her trial by Sam

Monnyka from the Cambodian Defenders Project, which had secured her release on

bail from T3 on Dec 14 after staff who visited her noticed her

bleeding.

Sam Monnyka told the court Kim Phal had been at the wrong place

at the wrong time, and that her accuser - the man she had seen coming out of the

house-was probably the real robber.

The court prosecutor said little

during the trial, saying he left the judge to decide on Kim Phal's guilt but her

confession showed she was clearly the robber.

Cambodian Defenders Project

director Francis James said after the trial that the judge's verdict of not

guilty was highly unusual.

If judges wanted to release a defendant, they

usually found them guilty but sentenced them to the prison time they had already

served, he said.

"In this case the judge made a finding of law that she

was not guilty. I thought that was very courageous."

Kim Phal's case

follows that of another pregnant inmate, Keo Ratha, reported in the last issue

of the Post, who was found guilty but sentenced to the prison time she had

already served.

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