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
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
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.
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
"After I married him I realized he was very bad," she
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
"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.
afraid so I kept quiet in my heart... he was my husband so I had to keep my
On March 10, 1987, her patience snapped, the day of the
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
"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
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 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."
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
She has no friends in prison "because the women prisoners
always fight each other and some have committed very bad crimes," Leng Sien
"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".
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
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
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
"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.