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Woman jailed past legal limit, lawyer claims

Woman jailed past legal limit, lawyer claims

The lawyer for the former head of an informal investment group – or tontine – has filed a complaint against four Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials, accusing them of keeping his client in pre-trial detention longer than legally allowed.

Im Socheat, lawyer for Ream Darin, sent a complaint to prosecutor Yet Chakrya on Tuesday accusing Investigating Judge Keo Mony, Judge Y Thavarak, and deputy prosecutors Sieng Sok and Sy Vanny of keeping his client imprisoned for more than six months, the maximum pre-trial detention period in misdemeanour cases.

A copy of the complaint went on to say that Darin was arrested by plainclothes officers without a warrant on June 13 – her trial began on December 18 – without ever having been formally issued a summons to appear in court.

“After receiving the case, I have seen that the action of prosecutors and police officials are not legal at all according to the procedure, because my client has never received a citation,” Socheat’s complaint read. “The procedure of the prosecutor was rushed.”

Socheat likened the circumstances of his client’s arrest to kidnapping, and added that he had applied for his client’s release two times, but received no response. In the complaint, Socheat requested compensation to the tune of $1 million.

Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant with the rights group Licadho, said that article 209 of the penal code states that an adult accused of a misdemeanour can only be detained before trial for four months, with the possibility of one two-month extension “following proper procedures and giving express reasons”, something Socheat maintains prosecutors did not do.

“This [unlawfully long detention] is a regular occurrence, but it is difficult to give exact statistics as the methodology for determining pre-trial detention is often unclear,” Critoph said, via email.  “It is certainly the case that far too many prisoners are held unnecessarily in pre-trial detention for long periods, a major contributing factor to Cambodia’s prison overcrowding problem.”

Dun Vibol, a defence lawyer not involved with the case, said that judges rarely release defendants who have been detained beyond the legal period, often citing confessions as a rational for keeping them in jail.  

“I always complain about this to the judge, but the judge always says, ‘is your client innocent, or not?’” Vibol said.  

“Even if the accused person claims they are innocent, the judge will not dismiss the charges quickly.  The trial judge will always send the case for reinvestigation, then it will go to trial again,” he added, noting that the process could add months before charges are dismissed or – more likely – a sentence is handed down for time already served.

Yet Chakrya and Y Thavarak could not be reached yesterday, and Sieng Sok and Sy Vanny declined to comment. Keo Mony declined to comment in detail, saying that it was Socheat’s right to file a complaint.

To contact the reporters on this story:

Meas Sokchea at [email protected]

Stuart White at [email protected]