PURSAT provincial court yesterday cited insufficient evidence as the reason for acquitting two men in connection with the January 2009 rape and murder of two young girls whose bodies were found hanging from a tree near their homes in Krakor district.
Observers said the court ordered the immediate release of a 43-year-old man and his 23-year-old nephew, who had been detained since their arrest in March last year. The crime took place in Boeung Smuk village.
The bodies of the two girls – one of whom with both of her legs broken and her eyes gouged out, the other with a broken leg and neck – were found on January 6, the day they went missing.
Mary Katherine Olsen, a filmmaker who has documented the case and who attended yesterday’s verdict, said she was “very surprised” that the two men had been acquitted.
“So much important information has not been considered,” she said. “I heard a lot of convincing evidence from the victims’ families.”
She noted that the case against the men had hinged largely on witness testimony because no forensic evidence had been collected from the bodies, which were buried the day after they were found.
“There was no sperm, no samples, no fingerprints collected,” she said.
An Sopheak, the sister of one of the victims, said yesterday that she was “disappointed” with the court’s decision to release the two men.
“They said we don’t have enough evidence to accuse them, but we had witnesses,” she said.
Provincial court officials could not be reached for comment.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said it was common, especially in the provinces, for prosecutions in murder cases to falter because of a lack of evidence.
“Many cases, if they need evidence to prove the killing, our system is not good enough for that,” he said. “The government must pass a law on post-mortems and autopsy.”
He added that “more cases would be prosecuted if we had this law”.
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said 200 cases of rape had been reported to the organisation in the first nine months of the year, 176 of which involved victims younger than the age of 18. He said 12 of the cases had resulted in prosecutions, 170 cases were still under investigation, and 18 had been settled out of court.
Olsen said she had been shocked by the “brutality and violence” of the case in Pursat, and by how little attention it received from both officials and the general public.
“I was just devastated at the lack of attention this case received from all sectors of society,” she said. “They treated the case just like a dog got run over by a car.”
She said three other suspects had been “on the run” since January last year, and that she, along with rights workers, would try to “somehow convince authorities to keep investigating”.