Court Altered Charge in Officer’s Rape Case

A border police officer in Oddar Meanchey province who was charged with raping a 16-year-old girl after locking her in a jail cell for 24 hours in July was released from prison last week after the provincial court decided to lessen his sentence convicting him of intentional violence, a court official confirmed Tuesday.

The family of the teenager—who local police maintain was both raped and badly beaten during her daylong confinement—admitted that they took $5,000 from the officer in exchange for dropping their complaint against him, but never expected the court to release him, given the seriousness of the crime.

Leng Sarann, a 36-year-old police officer who had manned the Phnom Tbal checkpoint on the Thai border in Anlong Veng district, was arrested on July 16 and charged with rape.

“The suspect punched the victim…until she lost consciousness and then the suspect raped her,” Trapaing Tav commune police chief Pheng Phuot said at the time.

But on Tuesday, provincial court prosecutor Kout Kanya said the court decided last week to convict Mr. Sarann of intentional violence, rather than rape, and suspend his three-year sentence for the lesser crime. Mr. Sarann walked free two days later, after serving less than four months in prison.

“We dropped the rape charge because the victim knew the suspect and agreed to have sex with him, and she was more than 15 years old,” Mr. Kanya said, adding the intentional violence conviction, handed down on October 29, was based on the teenager’s extensive bruising after the crime.

Cheat Na, 50, the mother of the victim, said Tuesday that although she accepted money from Mr. Sarann’s family to drop the complaint she initially filed with the court, she still expected to court to pursue the charge.

“Last month, we accepted $5,000 in compensation from the suspect’s family,” Ms. Na said.

“I’m not happy about the court’s decision and I’m afraid for my family’s safety,” she said. “But we cannot file [another] complaint against Mr. Sarann because I’m ill and we are poor and we cannot confront him because he is a police officer.”

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, accused the court of violating the rights of the victim, and challenged its logic.

“This is a serious violation of human rights and [a case of] impunity, because if the girl agreed to have sex, why was she attacked?”

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