An unlicensed health worker charged in Cambodia with murder and other crimes after allegedly causing a mass HIV infection by treating patients with reused needles will be brought to trial next week, sources said.
Yem Chhrem, whose actions may have caused the infection last year of more than 270 residents of Roka commune in northwestern Cambodia’s Battambang province, will be tried on Oct. 20, a judge involved in the case told RFA’s Khmer Service this week.
“[A panel of] judges will hear the case for five days,” provincial judge Chea Vannak said. “The trial will involve only the defendant and the [government as] plaintiff.”
No outside monitors or observers have been invited to attend the trial, which will be held in the Battambang provincial court, he added.
Speaking to RFA, Yem Chhrem’s wife Yorm Chenda said she hopes for mercy from the court, calling her husband the sole breadwinner for their family.
“I am his wife, and we have children. We are very concerned, as we don’t know how long his sentence may be.”
Yem Chhrem’s lawyer meanwhile said he isn’t sure if he will be able to defend his client at trial, as he has not yet been paid his fee.
“I can’t defend him. He hasn’t paid my attorney’s fee,” he said.
More than 270 villagers in Roka have tested positive for HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—since late November 2014, and at least 10 Roka villagers are now believed to have died from the disease.
In one extended family of 50 people, 16 were infected.
Yem Chhrem, an unlicensed medical practitioner who had worked in Roka for around 20 years, was detained in December in connection with the cases and admitted reusing needles on different patients .
The Battambang provincial court then pressed formal charges against him, including intentionally spreading HIV, murder carried out with a cruel act, and practicing medicine without a license.
Yem Chhrem faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted on the murder charge alone.
Reported by Hum Chamroeum for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.