Former Miss Grand Cambodia contestant Mean Pich Rita, who was charged with theft and the use of violence following a complaint from Oknha Heng Sier, was released on bail Thursday morning after lawyers for Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a letter to the court supporting her bail claim and calling for a thorough investigation. The case garnered widespread attention when Pich Rita filed a counterclaim accusing the tycoon of sexual harassment and attempted rape, saying she had acted in self-defense.
The release order signed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Koy Sao said that the decision was made in response to the bail request and that Pick Rita remains under the court’s supervision.
Pich Rita was charged May 11 under articles 353 and 357 of the Criminal Code for allegedly stabbing the tycoon in the stomach and stealing his mobile phone. In a countersuit, seeking $110,000 in damages, Pich Rita describes Sier pulling him into his car, touching her, trying to convince her to have sex with him at a guesthouse, and then warning her he has a gun as she tried fighting him off. The case sparked outrage on social media, with defenders echoing the words she shouted out as she was sent to court: “He touched me, I disgust myself.”
On Wednesday Justice Ministry Secretary of State Kim Santepheap posted on Facebook that the ministry was closely monitoring the case and had requested the court to ensure a thorough investigation to provide justice to both parties. On Wednesday, lawyers for the prime minister sent a letter asking the court to release her on bail and to pledge to do more investigation.
Viroch Sophang, Pich Rita’s defense lawyer, told CamboJA that the court questioned her Thursday morning and that Hun Sen’s lawyers were in attendance. Sophang said the court agreed to the bail release because of health problems Pich Rita faces and due to the lack of extensive investigation.
The theft case, “is too small that it should not lead to detention. Such a decision is good in that we can have a way to fight cases where there are lawsuits on both sides,” he said.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said that the court’s decision was made base on the legal procedure.
“This is not because of public pressure, but this is a court procedure because the court has not yet decided which party is guilty or not,” he said, adding that the bail is guaranteed by a lawyer and the case is in the process of being investigated.
Malin cautioned social media users, journalists, and civil society from acting as judges themselves.
“We have to be active citizens monitoring the progress of the investigation to the trial and we should not judge whether this person is right or wrong,” he said.
Civil society groups commended the speedy bail release, saying it should be the norm — rather than the rare exception when a case has garnered attention from the public and government leaders. More than a third of Cambodia’s prison population is in pre-trial detention, according to the UN special rapporteur, though some rights groups put that figure closer to 75 percent. And while there are legal limits to the length of time someone can be held without a trial, those limits are frequently flouted with those arrested — especially the poorest — languishing behind bars for years without a trial. As a result, Cambodia’s prisons are severely overcrowded.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, said that they have noticed that cases linked to tycoons or powerful officials are far more likely to be processed in a speedy manner.
“This is not different from the previous cases, if there is no public criticism, there may not be such a bail procedure. Therefore, it requires a thorough investigation before deciding on any detention or indictment to ensure justice for all,” he said.
Sam Ath said civil society organizations, including the United Nations, have long urged the government to reform its judiciary to ensure justice and equality before the law.
“[Instead of] criticizing people for acting like courts, it is important to ensure that the judiciary provides justice people can be fully confident in, so there will not be a court of public opinion,” he said.
This case is just the latest example of powerful and well-connected figures being accused of crimes against women. Fifty civil society organizations working on the promotion of women’s rights 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.