An underage girl who was illegally detained for more than eight months at Prey Sar is set to be released today, her lawyers confirmed yesterday.
At a Phnom Penh Municipal Court hearing on Friday, judge Svay Tonh ordered the girl, named Reaksmey and currently 14 years old, be released on bail. The judge found she was wrongfully imprisoned for drug trafficking because she was arrested as a 13-year-old, 10 days prior to turning 14 – the age of criminal responsibility in Cambodia.
Ouk Vandeth, her lawyer and director of International Bridges to Justice, said the judge had concluded from her small stature that Reaksmey could not possibly be 20 years old, as the police report claimed, and ruled her detention was “unjust”.
“The court just went ahead based on the police report, which didn’t include her birth certificate,” he said. He said a hearing on the drug-trafficking charge would still proceed, but Reaksmey would not face further jail time even if she was found guilty.
Seng Liv, Reaksmey’s mother, said she was “happy beyond compare”, but feared Reaksmey would be again threatened by local traffickers and forced to sell drugs, which Liv claims was the cause of her prior arrest.
But Tuol Sangke commune police chief Huy Hean, while saying her release was the court’s purview, maintained there had been no police mistake in her arrest. “We did our best when we arrested her. But lacking some information, the court released her,” Hean said.
He also claimed drug crime had dropped by 99 percent since he arrested Reaksmey, a claim that could not be independently verified.