Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced Rath Rott Mony to two years in prison after he was found guilty of being involved in the production of a sex trafficking documentary dismissed as fake news by the government.
Judge Koy Sao said Mr Rott Mony was charged with incitement to discriminate for helping Russia Today produce “My Mother Sold Me”, a documentary that told the story of three young girls whose virginities were reportedly sold by their mothers.
After it went viral, a mother and daughter featured in it retracted their statements following police questioning.
Judge Sao said Mr Rott Mony must also pay $17,200 in compensation to Kav Malay and Tep Salim, the mothers of two girls featured in the film.
“Based on the testimonies of related parties, the court has found Mr Rott Mony guilty,” he said. “He has the right to make an appeal with the Appeal Court, if he does not accept the verdict.”
After the verdict was announced, Mr Rott Mony, who maintained his innocence during the course of his trial, said that he was unjustly convicted.
“The verdict is unjust and I will discuss it with my two lawyers in order to file an appeal,” he said.
Defence lawyer Sam Titseyha yesterday said the compensation set by the judge was disproportionate to the crime Mr Rott Mony was convicted of.
“I talked with my client already and we will file an appeal to have the verdict overturned,” Mr Titseyha said. “It’s unacceptable that my client was ordered to pay the plaintiffs the amount.”
Ms Salim said she agreed with the compensation, and noted that Mr Rott Mony should be given a longer sentence if he repeats the offence once out of jail.
“I hope the court would give him a longer sentence,” she said. “He could do another illegal act after he is released.”
Khieng Sreymich, one of the girls featured in the film, said she hopes Mr Rott Mony will acknowledge his guilt and change his behaviour.
“I want the case to end at Phnom Penh Municipal Court – I do not want to appear in court again,” Ms Sreymich said. “I can’t be bothered – and I want to continue studying.”
Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the human rights group Adhoc, said he believes Mr Rott Mony was innocent, adding it was RT that directed and produced the film.
“Based on the evidence presented by his lawyer in court, it’s clear that he was just a translator,” Mr Sen Karuna said. “If the film was fake news, the court should take action against the RT crew, not him.”
During his trial, the court alleged that he was involved in the film, not just a fixer or a translator, because his name was listed as a producer in the film’s credits.
Mr Rott Mony was arrested in December after he fled to Thailand in order to avoid prosecution. He spent months in pre-trial detention after his bail request was denied.
Earlier this month, Ekaterina Yakovleva, the head of RT’s documentary department, sent a letter to the Cambodian embassy in Moscow vouching for Mr Rott Mony.
Ms Yakovleva said Mr Rott Mony had worked as their local fixer and interpreter, while the film was edited by a team solely made of RT personnel.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, yesterday issued a statement criticising the court’s decision to convict Mr Rott Mony.
“The charges brought against him are an affront to media freedom,” Mr Robertson said. “The fact of the matter is Cambodia is trying to cover up the very serious poverty that compels urban families to encourage their daughters to engage in sex work to survive economically.”