Gordon Vong, 16, stands outside the Phnom Penh municipal court on April 22 with his mother and an unidentified family member.
n Australian civil liberties group has criticized the severity of a 13-year jail
term given to an Australian-Vietnamese teenager caught trying to smuggle heroin out
Gordon Vuong, 16, was arrested in January at Phnom Penh International Airport with
2.1 kilograms of heroin strapped to his torso.
On May 3, presiding judge Kim Sophorn sentenced Vuong to 13 years imprisonment for
drug trafficking, telling the Phnom Penh municipal court that the high school student's
age prompted him to give less than the 20-year maximum sentence.
But Terry O'Gorman, president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties condemned
the sentence, saying that Vuong was being unfairly judged by adult standards.
"The issue of a juvenile being sentenced to such a whacking term is an issue,
frankly, the federal government has got to get involved with," O'Gorman told
the Australian Associated Press.
The Australian ambassador to Cambodia refused to comment on consular matters, but
Vuong's lawyer, Mon Keosivin, said embassy representatives had been monitoring the
According to Vuong's written statement to police, he was approached during a trip
to Hong Kong by a "light-skinned" man, possibly British, who said he would
give the teenager $10,000 "to carry something" from Cambodia.
The man mentioned that he knew where Vuong's aunt lived and so Vuong agreed to the
deal, saying he feared for the safety of his family.
On the flight to Cambodia he met Yen Karath, a 26-year-old Cambodian-Australian,
who took him to a hotel in Phnom Penh.
Over the next three weeks, Vuong stayed at two hotels and once went to Spark nightclub,
where he saw a man dressed in black whom he guessed was the supplier of the heroin.
Vuong told police that he once tried to use the Internet to get help from friends
but failed because of a problem with the computer.
On January 22, Vuong watched TV as Karath and another man believed to be Ek Samoeun,
47, ground cakes of heroin into powder with a blender, then used a laminating machine
to seal the drugs into flat packages.
"The he strap onto my body it was very tite [sic] I could just breathe,"
wrote Vuong in his statement to police, but this crucial line was later omitted from
the translation into Khmer used by the court.
When the flight was cancelled, Vuong and the men returned to the hotel before trying
again later that day.
While Vuong made it through an initial scan, which is only used to detect explosives
and dangerous goods in checked luggage, at a second security point immigration officials
noticed him moving awkwardly and stopped him.
He told police he had white powder strapped to him, that Karath had his passport,
and that he wanted the assistance of the Australian embassy.
Karath was also arrested at the airport.
Police arrested Samoeun at his house in Prek Ho, five kilometers from Phnom Penh.
Vuong was tried on April 22, in the presence of his mother and aunt. Although Karath
and Samoeun were brought into the courtroom, Vuong's lawyer said that no witnesses
were called and that the judge based his decision solely on documents from the police.
Kim Sophorn delivered the verdict May 3.
The other two men have not yet been tried.
Keosivin said an appeal had not yet been filed, because he was waiting for instructions
from Vuong's mother once the verdict had been translated from the original Khmer.