“The situation of my sister, Marina, is very difficult to say. Today she is fine, smiling, singing. Tomorrow is very hard to predict.
“I might have to face more anger developing in my heart, more desire for revenge. It is very, very hard to accept what has happened.”
So begins a letter from Tat Sequndo, the American brother of karaoke singer Tat Marina. It has been more than seven months since a woman and several young men surrounded 16-year-old Tat Marina at a soup stand near the Olympic Market.
Tat Marina remembers a woman yanking her to the ground by the hair and kicking her with high heels. The men surrounded her as the woman poured a container of acid over Tat Marina’s head.
Witnesses identified the woman as Khoun Sophal, the wife of up-and-coming CPP official Svay Sitha, undersecretary of state at the Council of Ministers. Svay Sitha had begun an affair with Tat Marina when she was just 15.
Police found a car registered to Svay Sitha abandoned at the scene. A warrant was issued for Khoun Sophal’s arrest in December.
No arrests have been made. Authorities have not even questioned Svay Sitha.
Tat Sequndo, who has made a home for his sister in the US state of Massachusetts, has a few questions for the Cambodian justice system. He asked through The Cambodia Daily, since two previous complaints filed with court officials have elicited no response. From half a world away, he asks, “Will my sister ever get justice?
He cannot understand why law enforcement officials appear to be doing nothing: Do they understand and realize that Cambodia is a country, or is it just a jungle full of savage people?
Mention the name “Tat Marina’’ at the courthouse or police station, and the effect is electric. Glances drop, conversation falters. Persevere, and the fingers start to point. Mong Mony Chakriya, the prosecuting judge, says he is ready to proceed with the case, but the police won’t make any arrests.
The crime occurred in the Chamkar Mon district. Deputy Inspector Toep Kum admits it is an obstacle that Khoun Sophal’s husband is such a powerful official, especially since Svay Sitha has never said a word about the case.
‘’If he cooperates with us, it will be easy to find her,’’ he says. ‘’Svay Sitha must be responsible about this.’’ Journalists can help by asking Svay Sitha about the case, he says, and urging him to cooperate.
Svay Sitha, a former adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, has declined several requests for interviews. His office said last week that he is on a trip to Japan.
Toep Kum says the police are willing to arrest Khoun Sophal, but he claims they just can’t find her.
‘’We already have the warrant from the court,’’ he explains. ‘’Not just us, but all districts in Phnom Penh. If we see her anyplace, we will arrest her.’’
Will he go to her home and knock on the door, since she is rumored to be living there? he is asked.
Well, no, he says. The family home is in Tuol Kok, outside of his district. ‘’We have asked the police there to investigate.’’
In the Tuol Kok district, police inspector Kim Huon insists that they are actively investigating. ‘’I send police over to her house, but she is not there,’’ he says; sources tell him ‘’she is overseas.’’
He believes it because she has never been seen at that house since the crime was committed, and nobody could stay undercover that long. ‘’We have people around that house every day.’’
At Svay Sitha’s home, a sad-faced girl answers the buzzer. Her father is abroad, she says, and no, that isn’t her mother people are whispering about.
‘’It is my aunt,’’ she says. ‘’They look very similar.’’
Tat Sequndo has written out a series of questions for the authorities, questions he would ask if he could.
It is a short, damning list, striking at the heart of what is wrong with the Cambodian system of justice:
Have the police been threatened by anyone? If they have been threatened, was it by rich or powerful people?
Do they believe it is their duty to protect all people, not just the rich and powerful?
Witnesses say a woman and a group of young men attacked a young girl and left her for dead. Do they think the people who did such a thing should be punished?
Other people say those accused in this crime are walking the streets of Phnom Penh freely. What is their response to that?
Do they believe that those responsible for protecting Khoun Sophal should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice?
For what it is worth, the police gave all the right answers to his questions. No one has threatened them. Their duty is to protect all people. The crime was a terrible one, and should be punished.
They have not seen the alleged perpetrators, and if they see them, they will arrest them. Anyone who hides them should be prosecuted for obstructing justice.
‘’If someone is protecting her, they are walking in the wrong way,’’ says Kim Huon. ‘’If any powerful man blocks the arrest, he must be punished, too.’’
He has a message for her, and her brother.
‘’I will try to arrest the perpetrator very soon. I am very sorry about this and I would like to send my condolences to her and her family.’’
Words will have to be enough for Tat Sequndo, at least for now. He has no money for a lawyer and has filed no lawsuits.
Having Marina to take care of is like walking in a volcano, he writes. He has had to cut back his hours at the community health center where he works as a medical assistant, which made his financial pressures worse.
There are so much more responsibilities added on to my back. It is very heavy. Managing it is very difficult, especially the finances.
One thought sustains him: Justice will be served. What goes around must come around.
He says Marina is getting excellent care at the Shriners’ Burn Institute in Massachusetts, a hospital specializing in burn injuries. Her doctors say she can be beautiful again, although she will never be the same. She must undergo many more operations.
Svay Sitha still calls her daily. She cries and misses her family terribly. But she does not want to return to Cambodia.
Marina loves America, her brother writes. She loves how clean it is. She loves how people treat each other equally. Especially, women in this country are a very good model.
They help women protect themselves.
(with reports by Phann Ana and Kay Kimsong)