This week centered around the gathering of my second Success Story, that of a teenage client who lives at the Thai border. At 16, Vannak* (pictured below) found himself being interrogated by two police officers, in fear that if he did not provide a confession for the crimes they spoke of, he would be subjected to physical punishment at the hand of the "large officer." Out of this fear, Vannak falsely confessed to serving as as an accomplice to intentional damage to property and intentional violence – crimes which, given these particular circumstances, could warrant up to 15 years in prison and over 10 million riel ($2,000 USD) in fines. After some shuffling between the police post and the prison, Vannak was brought before a judge the morning after his arrest, who informed him of his right to a lawyer - and his mother then met with Sothea (our provincial attorney) the next day.
On the date of the alleged incident, Vannak had spent the day playing volleyball with his friend, who was willing to come forward as a witness and provide testimony regarding Vannak's whereabouts that day to the investigating judge. After Sothea presented this witness and pointed out the lack of any evidence of Vannak's involvement, the judge dismissed the charges.
Needless to say, Vannak's mother, who had spent each day crying because she “knew it was a mistake” and kept wondering “why they [were doing this] to her son”, was "very happy" following her young son's release. As a single mother who makes only $100 USD per month as the owner of a pharmacy, she was unable to visit Vannak because the prison was too far and she had already spent much of her income traveling to the IBJ office. Now 17, Vannak is in the process of completing 12th grade with hopes of becoming a doctor. Thankfully, false accusations and a coerced confession will no longer hold him back as he completes his education.
Pictures from lunch on the Thai border after our Success Story meeting:
*Name changed for client's privacy.