After more than a yearlong hunt for Chea Ratha, the former senior military police official sought for her alleged involvement in a brutal acid attack, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday acquitted her in absentia and six others charged in the crime.
The court issued a warrant for Ms Ratha, 43, on May 14 last year for her alleged role in a May 6 acid attack that seriously injured Ya Soknim, 39, the aunt of Ms Ratha’s lover, karaoke star In Solyda. In June of last year, the global police body, Interpol, posted a most wanted “red notice” on its website, saying Ms Ratha was wanted for “crimes against life and health.”
Nach Try, lawyer for all seven suspects, said by telephone that the court acquitted his clients due to a lack of evidence.
“There is no evidence, so the court dropped the charges,” Mr Try said, adding that he was too busy to discuss the case in detail.
Only two of the seven suspects acquitted by the court, Ear Puthea, a former municipal police officer, and bodyguard Siek Sophal, had been arrested in the case, and were the only people to appear in court yesterday. Ms Ratha, who previously held the rank of National Military Police deputy chief of staff, did not appear in court.
Uch Sophal, lawyer for the victim of the attack, called the court’s decision “unjust,” saying that there was plenty of evidence linking the seven suspects to the crime, including a recorded telephone conversation of Ms Ratha threatening his client, Ms Soknim.
“There is no justice for my client. There is enough evidence that even led to the detention [of Mr Puthea and Mr Sophal] for over year,” Mr Sophal said, adding that during the trial Ms Soknim had identified one of her attackers as Meas Mao, another associate of Ms Ratha.
According to Interpol’s website yesterday, a similar “red notice” had also been issued for Mr Mao for “crimes against life and health.”
Ms Soknim, who suffered disfiguring injuries to her face from the attack, said by telephone that the court’s decision was the “gravest injustice,” adding that she planned to appeal.
“I don’t agree with the court that released the people who had intended to kill a human being. There is no justice for me,” Ms Soknim said. “This is painful and I want your newspaper to print the story so that Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen knows about it,” she added.
Ms Soknim said that she is now very worried for her safety following the court’s decision to release her attacker.
“I appeal to the United Nations and various NGOs to help take me abroad,” she continued. “The courts in Cambodia did a grave injustice, turning what is black into white.”
Sin Visal, one of the three judges presiding over the trial, hung up his phone after hearing questions about the case. The two other judges, Din Sivuthy and Sem Sakola, as well as Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun, could not be reached for comment.
Ms Ratha, who claimed previously she fled to Thailand after the incident, hung up her telephone when contacted by a reporter yesterday. Ms Ratha said in December that she was a victim of a complex conspiracy against her orchestrated by Ms Soknim.
Chan Soveth, chief of monitoring for local rights group Adhoc, said that the court decision gave the impression that there might have been “irregular conditions in an exchange for the charges being dropped.”
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, called the court decision another example of “impunity” for acid attacks in general.
“The charges were dropped against all accused persons. This is impunity for acid attacks,” Mr Sam Ath said.