Ten Phnom Penh residents, accused by police of having been involved in a car and moto theft ring, yesterday saw their charges dropped for lack of evidence.
The decision came after a significant portion of the group had spent more than a year behind bars without trial, prompting a local NGO to decry what it called a clear human rights violation.
“Due to a lack of evidence, the court has found that the 10 accused have no guilt in the case,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court presiding judge Kor Vandy.
“Therefore, the court has decided to drop charges against them, and orders them to be immediately released from prison if they are not involved in other criminal cases.”
The group included two women – Heng Theary, 19, and Lor Seang Hay, 25 – and eight men identified in court as Chhim Bora, 30; Suon Sokpov, 18; Ban Samnang, 18; Mean Mom, 30; Chan Pros, 30; Moeun Mab, 21; Muol Nith, 19; and Ty Mengty, 20.
During a hearing on June 3, Yim Sarann, the chief of the Por Sen Chey district police, made his case to continue holding the group – arrested in February and August of 2014 – saying they were experienced armed robbers who had stolen a host of vehicles from people on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“They have shot people and robbed cars and motorbikes from victims in many cases,” he said, adding that police had seized three pistols when detaining the group in February.
Speaking after yesterday’s decision, Mom, one of the accused, said that while he was happy to be free, the bitterness of his long incarceration lingered.
“I am pleased, as the court dropped the charges against me, but I was arrested and in jail for more than a year,” he said yesterday outside the court room.
“I think that it was an injustice against me, but I will not complain to higher courts, because I am afraid that they will not accept my complaint. And also, I don’t have money for this [procedure].”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the group’s long-time incarceration was a human rights violation.
“To avoid this happening in the future, I would suggest the court not detain [suspects], or allow the suspects to stay outside detention if they do not have more than 50 per cent of the proof against them,” he said.
Despite a March 2014 initiative designed to encourage greater judicial accountability for pre-trial detainment, statistics from the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons showed the number of inmates in pre-trial detention climbed from 24 per cent to 30 per cent of the prison population between May 2014 and the end of that year.
The International Centre for Prison Studies estimates the percentage of pre-trial detainees to be more than double that figure.