A farmer who was arrested on Monday after his wife told police that she had witnessed him raping their 8-year-old daughter was released from custody by the Kandal Provincial Court on Wednesday due to a lack of incriminating evidence—despite authorities saying he admitted to touching the girl’s genitals.
The child’s mother was collecting duck eggs from beneath her small stilt home in Kandal’s Ponhea Leu district at about 5 a.m. on Monday when the house began shaking, according to district police chief Seng Srang, so she went inside to investigate.
“When she opened the door, she saw a shocking thing,” Mr. Srang said. “Her husband was raping their small daughter.”
“She became really angry and grabbed a meat cleaver and hacked the suspect three times on his back,” he said, explaining that the man only sustained minor injuries because she had used the blunt edge of the blade.
The police chief said the man then ran away and returned the following morning, when he was arrested by local police. During the time that the suspect was away, Mr. Srang added, his wife had filed for divorce with the village chief while her sister had filed a complaint with police about the rape.
Under questioning at the district police station, the suspect denied raping his daughter, according to Mr. Srang.
“He said he just touched her genitals, but the wife and his daughter say he actually raped her.”
Contacted on Wednesday afternoon, however, Lim Sokuntha, chief prosecutor at the Kandal Provincial Court, said he had approved a request to release the suspect made by deputy prosecutor Sam Rithy Veasna, who interviewed the man and his daughter at the court.
Mr. Sokuntha then chastised police for arresting the suspect without first seeking the court’s approval.
“When the complaint was filed with police, they did not ask our opinion and went directly to arrest him,” he said. “When we brought the victim to be questioned at the court, she said someone encouraged her” to say she was raped.
Mr. Rithy Veasna confirmed that he had requested the release of the suspect for lack of evidence, but only after soliciting the advice of the Child Protection Unit, an NGO policing body supported by the Cambodian Children’s Fund. He said the unit had interviewed the girl, concluded that she had not been raped and told the court that her father should be released.
“We [also] asked the mother and the victim, and they said the suspect did not rape her,” the deputy prosecutor added.
James McCabe, director of operations for the CPU, however, said he had not even heard about the case, and would not have made such a recommendation to the court regardless.
“We don’t make those sort of judgments or comments,” he said.
Contacted after the suspect’s release on Wednesday, Mr. Srang, the district police chief, said the man was back at home with his family, and hit back at the court for accusing arresting officers of acting rashly.
“I questioned the mother and the victim directly, and they said the suspect actually raped her. We are the police, and it was our duty to receive the complaint and find justice for the victim,” he said.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)