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Graphic Novel Exposes Shaky Legal System

The shortcomings of Cambodia’s legal system are highlighted in a new fictional graphic novel produced by a group of students at Stanford University in California. The story, “Shake Girl,” was published online last week.

The story, written by American journalist Eric Pape, is based on the 1999 cases of Tat Marina, the victim of an acid attack, and Piseth Pilika, who was murdered. Both cases have reported links to top-ranking Cambodian officials, but neither has been solved.

Pape, who worked for the English-language newspapers in Phnom Penh from 1996 to 1998, said the story was a comment on dangerous Cambodian love triangles—which can occur for fruit shake vendors, karaoke singers or movie stars alike.

“Shake Girl,” which borrows its name from the fruit shake vendors of Phnom Penh, seeks to expose shortcomings in Cambodia’s judicial system, he said.

The cases of Tat Marina and Piseth Pilika were shocking to many people, yet authorities have failed to seek justice for them, Pape said. Cambodia’s culture of impunity has continued without solution, he said.

The book was based on reporting he did in Cambodia from 1998 to 2006, Pape said.

“Shake Girl” received a small print run of 750, but it is also available on the Internet. On its first day, 200 people downloaded the story in a matter of minutes, with thousands following the next, Pape said.

Lem Mony, a program officer for women’s issues for Adhoc, said “Shake Girl” was an important push for “judicial competence,” and might urge authorities to reexamine the two cases and bring suspects to justice.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naroth and Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak did not respond to VOA Khmer requests to be interviewed.

Chiv Keng, chief judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said he had no updated information on either case, as they were initiated before he began his posting.

“I dare not to speak about it right now,” he said.

Pape spent from January to March this year making “Shake Girl” with the assistance of 14 design students and two professors from the Stanford. The story can be found at