A Toronto lawyer representing two Canadian women who were released from a Cambodia prison said it was a “cultural misunderstanding” that led to their arrest and charges last month.
Eden Kazoleas, 19, of Drayton Valley, Alta. and Jessica Drolet, 26, were among 10 Westerners who faced charges of producing pornographic photos and posting them to social media. The charges came after Cambodian police raided a party near the famous Angkor Wat Temple last month. The pair was released on bail earlier this week and returned to Canada Friday.
“It was terrifying. I think the main reason it was so scary was because we obviously didn’t speak the native language so we were often very confused about what was happening,” said Kazoleas.
Lawyer Frances Tibollo said the photos released by Cambodian police to the media are up to five years old and do not feature either women.
Tibollo chalks the situation up to a cultural misunderstanding.
“It’s very prudent to inform yourself of the various laws and norms and practices because when we visit another country, we are their guests,” she said.
“When I say cultural misunderstanding, what we consider nudity, for that matter, in the West may not be the same standard of what they consider nudity in Cambodia.”
Tibollo, who has experience working in Cambodia, said she first became aware of the imprisoned Canadians after reading about it in the news.
“Having lived there, I felt like I could be a useful liaison for the family,” she said.
“I had never heard of something like this happening before. That’s part of where my interest sparked – in reading more about it – and ultimately reaching out to the Kazoleas family to try and help them resolve it.
“There was a lot of confusion and misinformation. There’s a 12 hour time difference with the families from Canada so they needed some help understanding what was going on. I believe I was very sensitive and knowing a little bit about the Cambodian culture, I was able to assist in that.”
Tibollo arrived in Cambodia on Monday and started work on releasing the two Canadians. She said she could not comment on specifics since three other Westerners still remain in custody, but she shared some details with Global News.
“It’s an extremely sensitive issues. There’s so many different people involved. There’s so many different cultures involved,” she said.
“It was necessary to keep advocating for Eden and Jessica’s interest, which were to get them out of the prison as soon as possible and return to Canada as soon as possible.”
The women, along with five other Westerners, were released Wednesday.
“We got to my hotel. They showered. We just tried to be as normal as possible. We ate dinner and hung out,” Tibollo said, adding the trio flew out of Cambodia Thursday morning.
Tibollo adamantly denies the women produced pornography, were involved in the production of pornographic videos or photos, were involved in anything that could have been considered pornographic dancing and she said there was no nudity at the pool party that they attended.
She said it is her understanding that the charges against the women still exist, however, Tibollo said the Canadian women can go back to Cambodia as tourists.
“Their visa was not destroyed. They were not deported or anything like that. Their visas were simply returned to them and we went to the airport,” she said.
However, she has words of caution to those travelling abroad.
“As a guest of a country, it’s their rules. It’s not the same standard. They’re not the same rules we play with in the West,” she said.
“My advice to anyone is they should not be afraid to go to Cambodia. Cambodia is a beautiful culturally rich country full of very kind people.”