Two Canadian women who spent almost two weeks in a Cambodian jail arrived in Toronto Friday evening, with the lawyer who negotiated their release.
Eden Kazoleas, 19, from Drayton Valley, Alta., and Jessica Drolet, 26, from Ottawa, were among seven westerners released.
Kazoleas had been travelling since the beginning of September, her trip ending with an unexpected turn.
“It was terrifying,” she said of the arrest. “I think the main reason it was so scary is because obviously we didn’t speak the native language, so we were often very confused by what was happening.
Drolet said even though there was snow on their arrival, “it’s still welcoming, and we’re just glad to be back with our friends and families.”
“I’d like to thank Eden, who was my rock through it all and made things a little bit more bearable,” she said. “I’ll forever be grateful for her.”
The women were among approximately 90 people who were arrested on Jan. 25 when Cambodian police raided a party at a rented villa.
All but 10 of those arrested were released, according to Canadian lawyer Frances Tibollo.
Photos were years old, lawyer says
The women had taken part in a pub crawl organized by a local hotel and ended up at a villa rented by a group of foreigners, Tibollo said.
“What took place was a cultural misunderstanding that was exacerbated by false reporting in the media,” Tibollo said Friday.
The lawyer for the two women arrived in Cambodia on Monday, negotiated the women’s release on Wednesday, and began travelling back to Canada with them on Thursday morning.
The women did not produce pornographic pictures or videos, partake in pornographic games or dancing, nor did they encourage others to participate, Tibollo said.
There was no nudity at the party, she added.
“Any sensible reporter would have done their due diligence and found that the photos reported were date-stamped on an unrelated Facebook page anywhere from three to five years ago,” she said.
“Eden and Jessica are not in those photos that were in the media … nor in any photos remotely similar to those reported,” Tibollo said.
Both deny accusations
Kazoleas thanked “a group of people who are more like angels,” including her parents, who she said did everything they could to bring her home.
“I was equally lucky to have Jessica in there with me, and as much as I wish she didn’t have to go through it, I couldn’t have done it without her,” she said.
“I did not know, nor did I think, attending the outdoor pool party would be offensive to Cambodian culture,” she added. “I apologize for anyone who feels that it was.”
Drolet started backpacking at the end of September. She echoed Kazoleas’s statement, saying she didn’t participate in pornographic activities and doesn’t like how she has been represented in the media.
The families of the women are asking for privacy as they put these events behind them, Tibollo said.
Tibollo said she will not comment any further on the incident because an investigation is still pending for three of the 10 westerners who were jailed.
The women said the lesson here is one of awareness and understanding.
“Be aware of the cultures of the countries that you’re going to,” Drolet said.