Medic at Center of HIV Outbreak Sentenced to 25 Years

Yem Chrin, the 56-year-old village medic who has been blamed for spreading HIV to more than 270 residents of rural Roka commune in Battambang province, was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday morning.

During a five-day trial at the Battambang provincial court in October, nearly 80 HIV-infected villagers gave testimony. Many of them said that the only medical treatment they had ever received was from Mr. Chrin, who has admitted to reusing syringes on his patients.

Yem Chrin is escorted from the Battambang Provincial Court on Thursday morning after being sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Yem Chrin is escorted from the Battambang Provincial Court on Thursday morning after being sentenced to 25 years in prison.

At the court on Thursday, Presiding Judge Yich Chheanavy announced that Mr. Chrin was convicted of operating without a medical license, intentionally spreading HIV and torture and acts of cruelty that result in death with aggravating circumstances. The latter conviction was changed from an initial charge of murder accompanied by torture, cruelty or rape, which carries a life sentence.

“The court thinks that he’s guilty enough with criminal acts: operating an unlicensed clinic, spreading AIDs to victims and torture to cause the death of victims,” Judge Chheanavy told the court.

“[The court] decides about the charges: firstly, to change the charge of murder with torture and cruelty, written in article 205, that cause the death of victim, to article 215,” torture that results in death, she said. “Secondly, [the court] decides to sentence Yem Chrin to 25 years in prison and orders him to pay 5 million riel [about $1,250] in fines.” Mr. Chrin was also ordered to pay compensation to 107 victims, ranging from 50,000 riel (about $12.50) to 12 million riel (about $3,000).

The outbreak in Roka commune, which bucked the trend of steadily falling HIV rates across the country, was first discovered last December, with victims ranging from young children to adults in their 80s. Eleven HIV-infected villagers have died in the commune over the past year.

While Mr. Chrin was quickly identified as the likely cause of the outbreak, officials have admitted that proving his direct responsibility for the infections and deaths has been difficult.

During his closing remarks on the final day of the trial, Mr. Chrin pleaded for leniency.

“I treated the people honestly,” he told the court. “I did not have any intention to infect them with HIV, so I request the judge reduce my sentence because I need to meet with my children, my wife and my elderly mother…. I need to make money to feed my family.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Yem Chrin was ordered to pay up to 120,000 riel (about $30) in compensation to his victims. He was ordered to pay up to 12 million riel (about $3,000). The article also incorrectly stated that 10 HIV-infected villagers have died in Roka commune over the past year. Eleven have died.

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