Former Miss Grand Cambodia contestant Mean Pich Rita has been jailed on charges of theft and the use of violence after having allegedly stabbed Oknha Heng Sier in the stomach with a knife. Ms Pich Rita has filed a counterclaim accusing the tycoon of sexual harassment and attempted rape.
Viroch Sophang, Ms Pich Rita’s defense lawyer, told CamboJA that his client had been charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 11 in relation to an incident on May 4. Mr Sophang said that Okhna Heng Sier had filed a complaint with the Tuol Kork District police on May 6. Two days later, the police arrived at Pich Rita’s house and took the 20-year-old in for questioning. She was sent to court on May 10, and is currently detained in Prey Sar prison.
A detention order signed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Koy Sao said that Ms Pich Rita had been charged under articles 353 and 357 of the Criminal Codewith for stealing an iPhone 12 Pro Max as well as seriously stabbing the tycoon in the stomach.
“The court’s decision seems too fast,” Mr Sophang said. “While my client could not give detailed answers because she was still scared and shocked, so it is difficult to find out what really happened.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap said that the authorities needed to re-investigate the case to ensure that justice was done.
“This is a problem that undermines the credibility of the judiciary in Cambodia because we have seen the culture of impunity, and it has happened when it comes to the poor,” she said.
Sopheap insisted that the court should also respond to the lawsuit filed against the tycoon in a timely manner to ensure equal treatment before the law.
“It does not mean that lawsuits are dealt with quickly when they involve the rich and powerful while the weak are ignored,” she said.
Mean Pich Rita, who is also a TV presenter at My TV, filed a counterclaim against Heng Sier on May 11 for sexual harassment and attempted rape, claiming a total of $110,000 in damages. In her complaint, she alleged that Heng Sier had contacted her several times before the incident and transferred money to her bank account five times to a total of $847.
“It is unfair that I have been accused of stealing a phone and causing injuries,” the file read. “I pushed his hand away from my body to protect myself, I just wanted to free myself. I hope that Cambodia, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, will provide justice and truth to vulnerable female victims.”
Video footage from security cameras showed a dispute in a car along a narrow street in Phnom Penh between a man and a woman, believed to be Okhna Heng Sier and Ms Pich Rita. The man then fell out of the car while a woman carrying a knife opened the car door and walked away.
The case has sparked a social media campaign calling for justice for Pich Rita, with many Facebook posts echoing the words she cried out as she was sent to court: “He touched me, I disgust myself”.
In a video widely posted on Facebook, Pich Rita is seen crying and hugging an unidentified elderly woman and asking to go back home. “Is this what they do in this country?” she demanded.
Okhna Heng Sier is director and chairman of the board of directors of both Heng Sreng Hong Import Export Transportation and Construction CO., Ltd and CamboPura Glass CO., Ltd. CamboJA was not able to contact Heng Sier or his lawyer. According to local media reports, the tycoon is still in emergency care.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said that the case was still under investigation.
“The case is in the hands of the court and the court is investigating, so let the court work on it,” he said. “The charge is not over yet, as she also sued the tycoon, so the court will continue to investigate the case.” He added that if the investigation found no evidence, the charge would be dropped.
Justice Ministry Secretary of State Kim Santepheap posted on Facebook saying that the ministry was closely monitoring this information and has requested that the judiciary carefully investigate these two cases in order to provide justice to both parties.
Pok Panhavichet, executive director of Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said that there was no clear and concrete evidence showing which party was responsible.
“For me, the decision [made by the court] to detain the lady was too fast,” she said. “Based on the law, we have not yet found evidence of which side is wrong and which side is right.”
She said that from a social point of view, forcing someone to engage in a sexual act is unacceptable, especially against women.
“This kind of thing is unacceptable in society,” she said. “Women and men both have the same value.”
This case is just the latest example of powerful and well-connected figures being accused of crimes against women. 50 civil society organizations working on the promotion of women’s rights have sent an open letter to the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Women’s Affairs, and the Minister for Justice calling for legal action in cases of domestic violence, sexual harassment and violence against women carried out by men in positions of power.
In addition to the case of Okhna Heng Sier, the letter raised the cases of former Okhna Duong Chhay, who was stripped of his title after being publicly exposed for beating his wife, and Ouk Kosal, the former Kampong Thom province police chief who removed from his position after being accused of sexually harassing women colleagues.
“[We] are very disappointed that relevant authorities have not properly and effectively enforced the law on the previous cases of violence and sexual harassment,” the letter read. “In these cases, the victims have not received full justice, which severely affected the effectiveness of the law enforcement and lead to an increase in violence and sexual harassment of women and children.”