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'Kidnap' sisters are innocent

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Kim Sarun (left), 18, and Kim Sophary, exit Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month. Photo by: Hong Menea

Kim Sarun (left), 18, and Kim Sophary, exit Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month. Photo by: Hong Menea

TWO sisters accused of kidnapping a high-school student were released from prison yesterday after all charges against them were dropped, sparking a rights group to call for compensation for the three and a half months they spent in jail.

Kim Sarun, 18, and Kim Sophary, 28, cried at Phnom Penh Municipal Court as presiding judge Kor Vandy announced that they had been found innocent of kidnapping and detaining missing student Keo Kanlida.

The siblings were arrested on January 23 after Keo Kanlida’s father, Keo Heang, filed a complaint. In earlier testimony, the court heard that he alleged that the sisters told him over the phone his daughter was at their house and owed them money.

The women, however, said there had been a misunderstanding. They had been talking about a friend with a similar name, called Kan Da, who they had lent US$100 to.

Judge Kor Vandy yesterday agreed with them, saying: “It is considered that this is only a confusion of the victim’s name. Therefore, the court decided to drop charges against them and release them.”

The sisters, who both used to work at Universal Garment Factory, said that they were happy that justice had been done. “We are both innocent people. We are very happy that the court has dropped charges against us and released us so we can be with our family,” said Kim Sophary.

Kim Sarun added: “I am very happy that I have been released from prison and I hope that I will able to work to support my family. However, I am still very disappointed with the police because I was innocent person and yet I was jailed for nearly four months.”

Um Sam Ath, a senior investigator at rights group Licadho, said that the police had mistakenly arrested the women without conducting a proper investigation. “It is very regretful. This was a police mistake because they are lacking the capacity [to investigate].”

“According to Cambodia’s laws, the government has to take full responsibility for paying compensation for the waste of their time in which they could have been working and pursuing other interests,” he added.

But the director of the penal police department at the Ministry of Interior Mak Chito denied that the police lacked investigative capacity, instead emphasising that authorities were able to fulfill their duties effectively.

“The police have the right to detain or arrest the suspects or offenders, but they can’t do this unless there have warrants for arrests which are issued by the prosecutors or the court,” he added.

“If there is a mistake in an arrest, I think that it is not our police’s fault but is the prosecutor’s mistake because he or she is the only person who has the right to charge or not charge the suspects.”

Keo Heang, the father of the missing student was not present at the verdict and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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