Go fund me

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents -

The re­gion's grow­ing startup scene and the search for funds to sus­tain its in­no­va­tive ideas

BY 1997, the frag­ile and un­usual pow­er­shar­ing agree­ment ar­ranged in 1993 be­tween co-Prime Min­is­ters Prince Ra­nariddh and Hun Sen fi­nally cracked, lead­ing to the most se­vere blood­let­ting the coun­try had seen in years. In July, ex­actly five years af­ter Ph­nom Penh po­lice of­fi­cer Sok Vi­bol first sought shel­ter in the home of ac­tivists Sitha and Nhao, the es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions be­tween the two fac­tions spilled over when Hun Sen de­ployed CPP troops against forces loyal to his co-prime min­is­ter, Ra­nariddh. Less than two weeks later, in­ter­na­tional me­dia were re­port­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of dozens of Func­in­pec loy­al­ists. In the weeks to come, UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors would ex­hume count­less corpses with hand­cuffs on their wrists and bul­let holes in their skulls. The po­lit­i­cal effect of all this killing would be an end to the dual premier­ship – Hun Sen’s rule was now ab­so­lute.

Death threats, the van­dal­is­ing of their home and even be­ing shot at failed to stop Sitha and Nhao from lead­ing a protest against the widely con­tested 1998 elec­tion re­sults. Sitha was beaten un­con­scious and thrown in jail by po­lice. Vi­bol paid her a visit in jail, telling her she would be killed if she con­tin­ued her po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. The cou­ple per­sisted, and faced fur­ther vi­o­lence, tak­ing fire on their way to a wed­ding in 2000. Later that year, Vi­bol ar­rested Nhao on sus­pi­cion of sup­port­ing the rebel group Cam­bo­dian Free­dom Fight­ers, which that same year had launched rocket and as­sault-ri­fle attacks against govern­ment tar­gets in the cap­i­tal. He was re­leased with a warn­ing, but Sitha had had enough. While Nhao wanted to stay and fight, his wife ap­plied for a US visa, and soon left for Amer­ica.

Ly would never see her hus­band again. In Oc­to­ber 2001, Sitha’s sis­ter called her to say Nhao had gone miss­ing. Four months later, his mur­dered body was dis­cov­ered.

The US judge in Ly’s im­mi­gra­tion ap­peal case ruled against her, find­ing that her ap­pli­ca­tion was un­timely and that she was not a cred­i­ble wit­ness. The lat­ter find­ing was the prod­uct of slight vari­a­tions in her rec­ol­lec­tion of Nhao’s ar­rest the morn­ing af­ter the Cam­bo­dian Free­dom Fight­ers at­tack.

Such in­con­sis­ten­cies are com­mon in cases like Sitha’s, and are of­ten a prod­uct of the trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences ap­pli­cants are seek­ing pro­tec­tion from, said law pro­fes­sor Hing.

“One of the things that is of­ten a ve­hi­cle to deny asy­lum is in­con­sis­tency in the tes­ti­mony mak­ing the per­son not cred­i­ble, and that sounds like what they were try­ing to do in this case,” Hing said, adding that those in­con­sis­ten­cies of­ten are “triv­ial or un­der­stand­able given that the per­son might be suf­fer­ing from PTSD or com­mon ev­ery­day for­get­ful­ness”.

“If these courts are deny­ing [Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture] pro­tec­tion to some­one who was beaten or shot at, or whose spouse was shot, then [their ap­pli­ca­tion] should have been granted,” said law pro­fes­sor Hing. “I think this is a gross mis­un­der­stand­ing about the Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture, and the ev­i­dence that you have found in these cases – don’t sell your­self short, if it sounds like tor­ture to a layper­son, it is tor­ture... It’s an un­re­al­is­tic ap­proach of these courts to ask for more.”

That mis­un­der­stand­ing may be thanks in large part to the lack of ap­ti­tude among many judges staffing im­mi­gra­tion courts.

“I don’t want to dis­par­age all of them,” Hing said. “But gen­er­ally speak­ing, across the coun­try I would say that the cal­i­bre of the ap­pli­cants for im­mi­gra­tion judges is far lower [than for other judge­ships].”

In a 2016 in­ter­view with The Asy­lu­mist, a blog main­tained by US im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Ja­son Dzubow, Paul Wick­ham Smith, for­mer chair­man of the Board of Im­mi­gra­tion Ap­peals, said part of what at­tracted him to his ca­reer path was that it didn’t re­quire him to pass a bar exam.

But im­mi­gra­tion lawyer Jay Stansell, who has spent years liv­ing and work­ing in Cam­bo­dia, told South­east Asia Globe there is a darker, more fa­nat­i­cal side to the im­mi­gra­tion courts, one that is rooted in a be­lief that un­de­sir­ables must be kept out of the United States at all cost – be that be­cause of their race, ori­gin or po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion.

“I saw a Sal­vado­ran guy with cat­tle prod marks on his ch­est and [the judge] said, ‘You could have done it your­self,’” Stansell re­called. The lawyers work­ing for the govern­ment on such cases – trial at­tor­neys who of­ten end their ca­reer as im­mi­gra­tion judges – were gripped with a sim­i­lar zeal, he said.

“It’s crazy. We’d win cases and they’d ap­peal as though, ‘We are the last line of de­fence be­tween our com­mu­ni­ties and these aw­ful peo­ple Jay wants to have as neigh­bours now’,” he said, de­scrib­ing what he be­lieved the state im­mi­gra­tion lawyers he would face down in court viewed their job de­scrip­tions to be.

Death threats, the van­dal­is­ing of their home and even be­ing shot at failed to stop them from lead­ing a protest

If it sounds like tor­ture to a layper­son, it is tor­ture... It’s an un­re­al­is­tic ap­proach of these courts to ask for more

Bun­tha Ly’s story is just as trag­i­cally cin­e­matic as that of the mar­ried ac­tivists. An im­mi­gra­tion court found his story cred­i­ble but ul­ti­mately re­jected his ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ly was press-ganged into the army in 1983, and ten years later was of­fered the po­si­tion of sec­ond lieu­tenant in the Cam­bo­dian po­lice’s nascent drug squad by then-Sec­re­tary of State for the In­te­rior Min­istry Ho Sok, with whom he shared his roy­al­ist po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion. He did so well in his new role that by 1996 he was re­ceiv­ing death threats from a CPP-aligned ty­coon whose 100-kilo stash of dope he’d con­fis­cated. The fol­low­ing year, Ly’s po­lit­i­cal god­fa­ther, Ho Sok, was shot dead on the ground floor of his own min­istry dur­ing the July coup against Func­in­pec.

By 1999, Ly’s luck was un­rav­el­ling. He was or­dered to seize 100 ki­los of opium, which was sub­se­quently im­pounded, and ar­rest those smug­gling it. The CPP-ap­pointed head of the anti-drug de­part­ment, Heng Pov – de­scribed to the Cam­bo­dia Daily by an ex-mu­nic­i­pal po­lice chief as “a man of sweet words, with a sweet voice, but a bru­tal heart” – came un­der mount­ing pres­sure from for­eign em­bassies to burn the stash, which he ap­peared to do. But Ly dis­cov­ered that the opium was swapped out at the last minute on Pov’s orders.

He started work­ing with a col­league, Savoeun Sar, to un­cover Pov’s buyer. But Pov, hav­ing learned the pair were on his trail, warned them to keep their mouths shut, but de­tails were even­tu­ally leaked to the pub­lic re­gard­less. Af­ter the leak, Pov or­dered Sar to in­ves­ti­gate an in­ci­dent re­port. Sar was shot at the scene and had opium planted on his mo­tor­bike. Sar sur­vived, only to have Pov ac­cuse him of be­ing a drug dealer. Fear­ing he would “suf­fer the same fate as Sar”, Ly even­tu­ally left Cam­bo­dia for the United States in April 2000.

Ly was ruled in­el­i­gi­ble for pro­tec­tion by an im­mi­gra­tion judge who de­cided Ly knew the risks of the job when he signed up for it.

Hing is not con­vinced: “That’s ridicu­lous. Of course be­ing killed is def­i­nitely within the def­i­ni­tion of tor­ture.”

But if these ap­pli­cants have such strong cases and the judges are so out of line, what were their lawyers do­ing in all of this? The an­swer likely lies in the fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of po­ten­tial de­por­tees in Amer­ica never see a lawyer. Due to a le­gal quirk, de­por­ta­tion cases are viewed as civil dis­putes be­tween the govern­ment and the de­por­tee, rather than crim­i­nal cases. Those who would oth­er­wise be de­fen­dants have a right to le­gal counsel but not the right to have it pro­vided for them.

As Jay Stansell – the for­mer pub­lic de­fender and im­mi­gra­tion lawyer – put it: “You could get charged with stealing a can of beer and get a pub­lic de­fender and a jury trial, but if you’re be­ing sent back to a coun­try where you fear get­ting killed when you get off the plane, you have to pay for your own at­tor­ney. A huge num­ber of peo­ple are un­rep­re­sented.”

De­spite the Amer­i­can govern­ment’s own assessment that Cam­bo­dian law en­force­ment reg­u­larly em­ploys tor­ture, Cam­bo­di­ans are be­ing sent back into the lion’s jaws.

Washington does this with­out fur­nish­ing de­por­tees with a lawyer to make their case be­fore a court sys­tem seem­ingly rigged against them. And with the anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric bel­low­ing from Trump’s White House, change may be a long time com­ing.

“Cer­tainly, there are peo­ple that raise this all the time,” said Hing. “But we’re go­ing in an op­po­site di­rec­tion un­der Trump.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.