Mao Sary is a lawyer at IBJ”s office in Rattanakiri. He started working IBJ in October 2010. He is currently the only permanent legal aid lawyer in Rattanakiri province. Sary was motivated to work for IBJ because it is an organization that will help poor people who do not have ability to hire the lawyer to represent their cases in the court and he want to help charged person who are charged in offense. Moreover IBJ focus on represent the accused person who got detention in prison and IBJ provide lawyer to represent to charged and accused person. Prior to working for IBJ, he worked as lawyer assistant at CDP for two year as part time job and he worked as judge assistant for 3 years as part time job as part as well. Sary studied at the Lawyer Training Center from 2005 to 2007.He worked as a Lawyer for LAC from 2007 to 2010. Sary graduated with a Bachelors of Law from Royal University of Law and Economics in Phnom Penh in 2004.
Now, Sary works in Rattanakiri with Chheang Sopheav the Lawyer Assistant. Sopheav works with IBJ since 2009. He started to assist the lawyer in Mondulkiri and then changed to DRC 4 in Rattanakiri in October 2014.
A Broken Heart and a Family Reunion
Scorned for being poor, a young man in Cambodia found himself at the mercy of a dysfunctional justice system. IBJ stepped in and saved him.
What started as a story of romance for Virek (name changed), a 19-year-old villager from Stung Treng Province, ended in a 3-month prison detention for a crime he didn't commit and a broken heart. Virek is one of 10 children who live and work with their mother on the family's rice farm. The family is poor and still feels the loss of their father who died 7 years ago. Next door, Nary (aged 18) lives with her wealthier family on a soy bean farm.
Virek and Nary were in love and had been dating for 2 years when Nary's sister saw the two of them alone. She tattled on Nary. Nary's father hit her, so she lied and said that Virek had raped her. Nary's parents already didn't like Virek because he was poor, so they filed a complaint against him. Nary herself even testified that she had been raped. Virek was surprised when the police showed up to his home in the afternoon on February 8, 2014. He was taken to a police station where he was threatened with physical violence if he didn't confess to raping Nary. Virek denied hurting his girlfriend and he passed from commune to district to provincial police custody. He was not harmed, but he continued to receive threats. The prosecutor filed charges, and the investigating judge sent him to prison two days later on February 10th.
Rape is a felony, and under Cambodian law anyone accused of a felony must have legal representation. But, neither the police nor the prosecutor nor the investigating judge told Virek about his rights. Luckily, Virek's older cousin Kosal knew about the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). In Stung Treng province, ADHOC and International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) work closely with each other. The IBJ lawyer who lives and works in the neighboring Ratanakiri province, Mao Sary, also takes on cases from Stung Treng province with the help of his assistant, Phon Sophoes. ADHOC refers cases to IBJ and allows IBJ to use its office space in Stung Treng. When Kosal contacted ADHOC about his cousin's unfair imprisonment two days after the boy's arrest, ADHOC referred him to IBJ.
IBJ's goal is to prevent investigative torture by becoming involved with its clients' cases at the earliest stage possible. It strives to hold justice stakeholders to the standard of law as articulated in the Cambodian Constitution, statutes, and treaties, all of which recognize certain universal human rights. Virek was never informed of his right to legal counsel during his time in the justice system, but IBJ hopes to facilitate a culture in which the law is applied evenly to all who are accused. In addition, IBJ runs radio ads and organizes Community Legal Awareness campaigns to inform citizens of their rights and advertise the availability of IBJ.
Virek describes prison life as "difficult.'' A typical day might start at 5 AM, although if it had rained during the night Virek would have not been able to sleep at all. The room that he shared with 34 other people did not have walls, only chain link fences, so everyone became wet if it rained. Additionally, in order for all 35 people to fit on the floor at night, they slept on their sides and spooned each other. During the daytime, Virek and the others made metal fish traps that were sold to vendors in the market. Virek made 3000 riel ($0.75 USD) a day and saved it to buy sweets or shampoo from the prison guards. He was allowed to take a shower every day, but he never knew when it would be. Meals were served only twice a day at around 11 AM and 3 PM. Poor plumbing ensured the prison frequently smelled bad.
The prison guards insulted Virek daily. He lived in fear of them and some of the other prisoners. One time he saw his family through the fence because they had come to visit him. Unfortunately, the prison guards decided not to let them see Virek and made them leave. Each day Virek wondered to himself how much longer he might be in prison. He had no idea. He longed for freedom and worried about his family. Three weeks after Virek's incarceration, Mao Sary visited him and found out that the victim, Nary, was actually Virek's long-term girlfriend. He also met with Virek's family and learned about Nary's family's prejudice. He knew Virek was innocent and thought long and hard of a strategy to help him.
During the trial, Mao Sary asked the trial judge to send Nary's family out of the room. When they were gone, he asked Nary if Virek had raped her. With the pressure from her family removed, she admitted she had been lying to the police, the prosecutor, and the investigating judge. She said she was in love with Virek and he had not raped her. Thanks to the work of IBJ, he was acquitted of his false accusations in May! The first thing Virek did when he went to his home was hug and kiss his family before enjoying a big bowl of rice.
Since leaving prison, Virek has not seen or spoken with Nary. Her family has forbidden her to talk with him. He now works on his cousin Kosal's farm during the day, and only returns to his mother's house to sleep at night. Virek's family is scared of retaliation from Nary's family, but when asked if he thought it would be better if he were in prison, Virek said that ''No, it is better to be free.'' When asked which was worse—his experience in prison or losing Nary—he looked down at the ground and said his broken heart.
Virek thinks that if he did not have an IBJ lawyer, he would still be in prison today. He's probably right. Under Cambodian law, rape without aggravating circumstances is punishable by imprisonment from five to ten years. In addition, the investigating judge looking into a felony may opt to keep the prisoner in jail for as long as an additional 18 months before the trial. Furthermore, because Virek was charged with a felony, his trial could not have happened without legal representation. There is one private lawyer in Stung Treng province, but Virek's family is too poor to afford his services. The Stung Trung court would have had to request a legal aid lawyer from the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC). Some prisoners have been known wait for their trial in prison for as long as one or two years for a BAKC to come out to the provinces from Phnom Penh. Because IBJ's legal aid lawyers are permanently stationed in the provinces, IBJ is able to ensure that there are no undue delays in a case's procedure in the remote areas of Cambodia.
Virek is ''very happy and grateful'' that IBJ helped him. His cousin Kosal is ''very happy'' and wants to say ''thank you very much'' to IBJ. Virek still thinks about his life in jail every once in a while because ''it was such a difficult and bad time.'' He says that he ''wants IBJ to help other prisoners because some prisoners like [him] are innocent.'' Not all prisoners understand their rights and even fewer understand IBJ's work and the role of a lawyer. Virek's cousin Kosal has made a point of telling all of his friends and neighbors about IBJ's services. Thanks to Virek's cousin's quick work of contacting ADHOC, and ADHOC's close work with IBJ, IBJ was able to reunite an innocent boy and his family.