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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - When eight years is not enough...

When eight years is not enough...

When eight years is not enough...

K AMPOT - The prison guards don't even look up from their noisy card game as the

elderly woman shuffles past them through the front gates of the compound into

the blinding sun.

To them, Sok Hun, 55, is simply "Aunt" - the most

servile, undemanding and painfully shy of Kampot prison's four female and

forty-two male inmates; the one who sews the guards' clothes and sweeps and

cleans when they ask.

Sok Hun killed her husband eight years ago and has

been in prison since, but there is no-one in this town who wants her punished

further.

Prison officials, police and the local prosecutor and deputy

chief judge have all signed letters recommending her release, but in a case

crying out for compassion, the Ministry of Justice is instead insisting on the

rule of law.

Sok Hun faces between three to five years more inside, a

prospect she says "scares and frightens" her.

"We only think she is good

and should be released," says Kampot Prison chief Leng Sien, "but we are not

considering the law."

"She is the best prisoner... she has never done

anything wrong in here. She has never complained, always obeys everyone, never

argues, never fights," Sien says.

Sok Hun has no belongings; her family

are all dead; her house burnt to the ground years ago. She just wants to go back

to her village and get a job as a domestic helper.

The first thing Sok

Hun did after she killed her husband was to give herself up to the police. She

didn't even wait till her two young sons came home from school. That was in

1987.

She hasn't seen her sons since. They got sick a few years ago and

she heard the news that they had died months later.

Her mother passed

away soon after, still angry that her daughter killed her husband Sok Von and

brought shame upon herself and her family.

But Sok Hun never told her

mother that the man she killed stole money, raped her and methodically beat her

senseless every night of their six-month marriage.

Human Rights group

Vigilance took Sok Hun's case to the Cambodian Defender's Project, whose

defender Suon Visal has been arguing for her early release.

The French

and Khmer version of the UNTAC law allows for a conditional release of a

prisoner after as little as one-half of the term served; the English version

allows for a felony release after two-thirds.

Despite the Kampot police,

prison officials, prosecutor and judge all supporting Sok Hun's release, the

Justice Ministry has said no.

That decision appears to be against

judicial independence, because the law states that the judge has the right to

make such a decision, not the ministry.

Such legal semantics are beyond

Sok Hun - she is happy in the belief that for the first time in eight years

there are some people who are now on her side.

Sok Hun's two sisters and

four brothers were all killed during the Khmer Rouge regime. She married a man

named Man Pok - a "kind, good man who never beat me" - and had two sons, Kem Vy

and Kem Phean. Man Pok was "invited" away from their simple home in 1976 by a KR

cadre and never returned.

She struggled working in communal rice fields

till 1986 when she met Sok Von, five years older than her, and married

him.

"After I married him I realized he was very bad," she

said.

She said Sok Von beat her sons, stole money for gambling and

alcohol, and punched and kicked her every night that she could or would not give

him cash.

"He would kick and beat me till I was numb. He punched me in

the face till I bled... every night."

The family lived in a house away

from the other villagers; she had no friends to confide in and would not tell

her mother. Sok Von would ask her not to cry before he beat her.

"I was

afraid so I kept quiet in my heart... he was my husband so I had to keep my

patience."

On March 10, 1987, her patience snapped, the day of the

"accident."

Sok Von beat her for money, though she didn't have any.

Before falling into a drunken sleep, he promised he would beat her again when he

awoke.

"I was afraid he would... I took an ax from the house and killed

him." She said she hit him three times and knew immediately he was

dead.

She carried the bloody ax to the police station, frightened about

what might happen to her, but the police treated her well "and were not angry,"

she said.

She was put immediately into Kampot jail and has since ventured

outside the compound once in eight years, that being a day-trip to the local

court where she was given a 16-year prison sentence.

Her mother took her

sons and came to visit her three times "but she was very angry with me, saying

that if she knew she would never allow me to kill my husband."

"But I

never told her how badly he treated me."

Sok Hun has never got used to

prison and says she is not really very happy there, though she would never

complain.

She has no friends in prison "because the women prisoners

always fight each other and some have committed very bad crimes," Leng Sien

said.

"I am very scared of the fighting and try to stop it, but they are

all younger than me," Sok Hun said.

Leng Sien says: "Normally all the

other prisoners like her because she is very gentle, kind and tame".

"I

like all the prison guards," Sok Hun says, "I have been in prison a long time

and they pity me, and they all call me their aunt."

The ministry has

issued a nationwide regulation on the procedures of conditional

release.

A prisoner convicted of a felony offence must serve two-thirds

of his or her sentence, and only is released if they are a first offender and

have behaved well.

A motion must be recommended by the trial judge then

sent back to the minstry in Phnom Penh - raising the question of judicial

independence.

Defender Suon Visal has been told Sok Hun's file has been

sent back to Kampot. Apparently, if the ministry takes no further action,

neither the judge nor any official in Kampot is empowered to do anything

further.

"I will just have to try and survive more," she says, and

wanders slowly off to her tiny room at the end of a broken down set of stone and

iron barracks, her future already set for years to come.

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