Relatives of a drug user who has been imprisoned for two years without trial in Ratanakkiri province have vowed to file complaints today with the Justice Ministry and Supreme Council of Magistracy alleging that a senior court official and his clerk are trying to extort money for the young man’s release, a rights group and family members claimed Thursday.
Keo Seila, 20, was arrested May 30, 2007 when he was 18 years old and charged with destroying property in his home and pushing his grandmother while under the influence of drugs.
Having spent two years in the provincial prison, the young man’s mother and his aunt now want him released, but are not willing to pay the $500 that a judge and his clerk are allegedly demanding, said Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, who read from their complaint letter.
“Such illegal demands are critically unjust,” Mr Bonnar said by telephone, adding that both court officials should be sternly punished.
Meas Sophea, the prisoner’s aunt, said by telephone that the $500 was demanded in exchange for setting an actual trial date for her nephew so that the court could then acquit and release him.
“That judge stated in front of me on Monday that causing injury is not a serious crime, but using drugs is a serious crime,” Ms Sophea said, alleging that she had already paid $150 to the provincial court’s prosecutor in August 2008 to hold the trial, but that the official had since been transferred.
The court’s director Judge Lou Sousambeth, who is now handling the case, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday or Thursday.
Yorn Than, the court director’s clerk, however, admitted by telephone that he did ask for money in exchange for setting a trial date, but only because he was ordered to do so by his boss.
“The judge is the person who ordered me to demand money from those ladies,” Mr Than said by telephone. “Those women should not sue me because I am just a clerk and have no power to help their kid,” he said.
“I repeated what the judge, who is also court director, wanted from those ladies,” Mr Than continued, though he declined to say how much money he had asked from the women.
Ms Sophea said she feels cheated by the judicial system.
“Although I am not well educated and come from a poor family, I am pretty sure that drug users are not criminals, they are actually victims of those monstrous drugs,” Ms Sophea said, referring to her nephew’s addiction.
“Drug users in other provinces and cities have received good treatment at rehabilitation centers to cure their addictions. They are not in jail,” she said.
Moek Dara, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said by telephone on Wednesday that the government believes that addicts are victims of drugs.
While parents can ask the courts to detain their children in a bid to get them off drugs, and in the hope that the court intervention will direct the addicts toward agreeing to receiving rehabilitation, such detentions are only between one week and one month long, Mr Dara said, citing Article 48 of the drugs law.
“The government has concluded that drug users who are voluntary drug addicts or forced drug addicts are the victims of drugs, not criminals,” he said.