Acting against the recommendation of police and prosecutors, Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on Friday released on bail three men, including a local government official, charged with gang-raping a teenager in Banlung City last month.
Provincial Investigating Judge Chey Mealia said she had decided to release the three suspects, Nang Vannak, 27, Sim Khurn, 27, and Nget Sakoeun, 32, because there was not enough evidence to hold them for the gang rape of the 18-year-old girl.
“I decided not to detain the three people because the report made by police was not sufficient to accuse them,” she said. She said police had failed to question the three suspects and had produced “a one-sided report.”
However, Banlung City police chief Em Von took issue with Judge Mealia’s characterization of the investigation, saying that police interviewed the three men after they were arrested on Thursday, and that they all confessed. “The three suspects confessed that they forced the girl to drink wine until she lost consciousness, then they brought her to a forest and raped her one by one,” he said, adding that a hospital examination of the 18-year-old had revealed that she had recently been raped.
Provincial deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak said he had wanted the suspects to remain locked up, but that the judge had ignored his detention warrant.
Of the suspects, Mr. Vannak and Mr. Khurn are farmers, and friends of Mr. Sakoeun, who is the chief of Kon Mom district’s development planning office.
Kon Mon district governor Chhoeun Chanthean confirmed that Mr. Sakoeun worked at the office, and said he would return to work now that he had been cleared by the court.
“We have no plan to fire him because the court did not find him guilty of the rape case,” he said.
Chhay Thy, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he had helped the victim and her mother file a complaint with the Court of Appeal on Saturday against the release of the three men.
Mr. Sakoeun could not be reached for comment.