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UN funds appeal in young lesbian’s case

A 20-year-old woman currently serving a five-year prison term for having sex with a minor she asserts was her girlfriend, now has a United Nations-funded lawyer, sources close to the case confirmed yesterday.

The defence plans to file an appeal, and the resulting court decision could set an important precedent on same-sex relationships in the Kingdom, observers contend.

The Post reported late last month that Phlong Srey Rann had been convicted of illegal detention and human trafficking for having sex with her girlfriend, who was allegedly a minor at the time.

However, the young prisoner said she had no idea her girlfriend was under-age, since they both worked at a shoe factory in Kandal province.

According to Cambodian labour laws, factory workers must be at least 18 years of age.

Phlong Srey Rann’s mother, Som Srey Roth, told the Post yesterday that a Cambodian lawyer, Mao Tan Emm, had been hired to represent her daughter.

Reached by phone yesterday, Mao Tan Emm said he had been hired by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and had met with Phlong Srey Rann last Thursday at Prey Sar prison, along with a UN representative, who he did not know by name.

The litigator said he plans to file an appeal and prove his client’s claim that documents provided by her girlfriend’s family, which indicated their daugther was under-age, were falsified.

“The girlfriend’s family bribed local authorities to change her real age to file a complaint against Srey Rann,” Mao Tan Emm said yesterday.

“She is really over 20-years-old, but the family faked the documents to say that she was only 14-years-old,” he added.

A former Ministry of Justice worker, Mao Tan Emm has practiced law in the Kingdom for 15 years. Although representing a GLBT client would be “new” territory for him, Mao Tan Emm said he was confident that he has enough experience to be effective.

Sok Ly, coordinator for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project at the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said yesterday that the appeal case could mark the first time that the courts have publicly acknowledged a same-sex relationship in the Kingdom.

“This is really important for all LGBT people in Cambodia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Phlong Srey Rann’s mother said that she and her husband had recently lost the Kandal province home they were staying in because they could not afford the rent. With two younger children in school, the couple had relied heavily on Phlong Srey Rann’s monthly factory earnings to help pay the bills.

Despite the “difficult” circumstances, Som Srey Roth said she was hopeful for her daughter’s future. “I hope that she is released, I miss my daughter so much,” she added.

Zoe Latumbo, spokesperson for the OHCHR, said she could not comment at this stage.

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