Abeauty queen whose aunt was scarred for life in an acid attack begged Prime Minister Hun Sen for protection Wednesday, saying she feared her family would be killed after a former high-ranking military official was acquitted of involvement in the crime.
"Every day I open my eyes and see the scar Chea Ratha left [on my aunt]," an emotional In Soklyda said during a press conference hosted by human rights group Licadho. "Now she has been acquitted, what am I supposed to think? We were scared before, but how can we live now? I implore Hun Sen to help me find justice."
Chea Ratha, former deputy chief of staff of the National Military Police, had an affair with In Soklyda that turned sour in early 2008. After In Soklyda went into hiding last April, Chea Ratha allegedly threatened the star's relatives, warning she would "spill blood", according to a joint statement released by Licadho and the Cambodia Centre for Human Rights on Wednesday.
Chea Ratha was particularly enraged with Ya Soknim, In Soklyda's aunt, whom she suspected of helping the star to flee, the statement continued.
On May 8, 2008, two men on a motorcycle accosted Yim Soknim and poured acid over her face and upper body. She suffered severe burns as a result, losing her right eye and breast. In tears, Ya Soknim addressed reporters at the conference, calling for greater legal protection for the poor. "I want to tell the world that this is the way Khmer courts operate," she said. "If offenders are acquitted, they will commit the crime again."
On Wednesday, Licadho and the CCHR jointly condemned Monday's verdict, in which Chea Ratha - along with several co-defendants - was cleared of all charges. "This is yet another blatant display of Cambodia's rampant impunity and culture of brutal violence," said Licadho Director Naly Pilorge. "What is so shocking in this case is the judges' apparent total disregard of evidence against Chea Ratha and her alleged accomplices.
"Cambodia's judicial system yet again allowed the strong - those with power and government connections - to victimise the weak. The court ruling like this only ensures that acid attacks will continue if the perpetrators aren't brought to justice."
They called on the Supreme Council of Magistracy to investigate Phnom Penh Municipal Court's handling of the case to determine whether the judges acted "inappropriately" in reaching their verdict. "Evidence of unethical or illegal conduct should prompt an official inquiry," they said in a statement.
Chea Ratha's lawyer, Keo Ya, dismissed the statements and accused In Soklyda and Ya Soknim of defamation. "My client was not behind this acid attack," he said. "If my client had acted like this, the court would not have acquitted her. If [the victim's family] is afraid, that is their business."