A 16-year-old boy arrived at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for sentencing on Tuesday, only to be sent back, untried, to the prison where he said he has been imprisoned for more than two years, despite a maximum pre-trial detention period of two months.
The boy was one of 16 suspects returned to Prey Sar prison without trial because no defense lawyers were present, officials said.
Hong Kimheang, 38, accused of human trafficking, told a reporter that seven of the 16 suspects, including herself, had been detained for more than six months. At least two were minors.
According to Untac law, the maximum pre-trial detention period for adults is six months. Minors 13 years to 18 years of age can only be detained for two months.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that illegal detentions often occur when the suspect’s right of counsel is abused by authorities.
“We must make sure that everyone has access to counsel,” he said.
Horn Sophea Vuth, the 16-year-old, said he was arrested in August 2002. Police accused him of robbery, a charge he has denied.
“Police beat me to thumbprint their paper,” he said, referring to a written confession.
Uncertain of whether his parents had been informed of his incarceration, Horn Sophea Vuth said he has not been visited in prison by family or by a lawyer.
Having a lawyer, however, doesn’t ensure a timely sentencing, said Muong Akrun, chief of the Bar Association’s department of legal representation for children in need of special protection. He said that one of his colleagues has seven clients, all young boys, who have been detained beyond the legal period.
Kek Galabru, president of rights group Licadho, on Tuesday condemned the illegal detention of minors, and demanded they be released. “This detention is a violation of the law and of children’s rights,” she said. Licadho will investigate the Horn Sophea Vuth’s case, she added.