A Cambodian news fixer who aided the production of a sex-trafficking documentary discredited by the government has been arrested in Bangkok by Thai authorities as he attempted to gain asylum in the Netherlands.
Rath Rott Mony, 47, also a known labour activist, fled to Thailand with his family after the video produced by Russia Today Documentary went viral in October.
The documentary detailed how young Cambodian girls were sold for sex to feed their impoverished families and angered the government, which dismissed it as fake news.
Mr Rott Mony’s wife Long Kimheang said her husband, who aided the production, was arrested in Bangkok’s visa application centre on Friday where he was seeking asylum in the Netherlands.
“I’m worried that Thai police will deport my husband back to Cambodia,” Ms Kimheang said yesterday. “I fear that he will be put in prison.”
Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak confirmed yesterday that the arrest was made at the request of the Cambodian government, noting that Mr Rott Mony produced a false story.
“Police have requested he be deported back home as soon as possible because he committed a crime,” he said. “He produced a false story that tarnished a family’s reputation and ruined the country as a whole. We cannot let him be free.”
The 27-minute RT documentary detailed destitute families in Cambodia selling off their daughters’ virginity for about $400 each, and when their girls’ virginity was lost, they were then forced into prostitution.
In nightclubs and karaoke bars, adolescent girls poured drinks and offered sexual favours to four or five clients a day, the film said, focusing specifically on Kav Malay and her daughter Khieng Sreymich, whom she allegedly sold.
In the days after the video went online, Ms Sreymich posted a video on her Facebook page saying that her story was false and both she and her mother were duped by the television crew.
She and her mother were also questioned by police, whom they told they received $200 for acting in the film.
“At first, they said the video was to be educational and it would not affect me,” Ms Sreymich said on Facebook. “I thought everything was set up in the right way so I agreed to play a role in it.”
Ms Sreymich said she was approached by Mr Rott Mony to take part in the video, noting that she was reading lines from a prepared script when she said her mother sold her virginity.
“Later, he [Mr Rott Mony] argued with my mother…maybe he sold the video to the page [RTD] that posted the video. Although I’m so impressed that many people expressed sympathy to me, I would like to repeat that I was just acting,” she said. “It’s not what happened in my real life.”
Lieutenant Chan Ketekhom, chief of the municipal anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, last week said the video drew the attention of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife Bun Rany and National Police General Chief Neth Savoeun.
“I got a command from Bun Rany and Neth Savoeun for our police to check on the video and determine whether it was a true story,” he said. “How could this happen in our country? If it were true, the mother committed a crime.”
Lt Ketekhom noted that Ms Malay was a former Boeng Kak protester and part of a group from the community that failed to earn compensation over the land dispute.
However, he added that Ms Malay’s husband is a solider and they are currently living a decent life, not an impoverished one as depicted in the film.
“Recently, the family rented a house in Phnom Penh Thmey commune. Based on their living situation, I do not think they are as poor as it was presented in the video,” he said. “I questioned them and I went to the school – Entrak Tevy High School – which was used as a location in the film and where Ms Sreymich is studying.”
“They were cheated by a TV crew that included Cambodians and foreigners,” he added. “They were told the video was just an educational film.”
In an interview with Khmer Times last week, Ms Sreymich reiterated that Mr Rott Mony duped her and her mother into acting in the film by not being upfront about its nature.
“They did not mention the title of the film to us when we filmed it. Later, he argued with my mother. I think they mistreated us so they put the title like that. He convinced us to film it,” she said. “It’s not a true story. I just memorised the scripts. I did not tell the story of my real life.”
Her mother Ms Malay could not be reached for comment, but in a contract signed by her with RT and obtained by Khmer Times, Ms Malay agreed that the story being told in the video was true.
Mr Rott Mony’s wife Ms Kimheang also said that the story in the video is accurate.
Ms Kimheang said her husband had no argument with Ms Malay or her daughter and claimed that both are now denying the truth because they fear imprisonment.
“They were pressured by the police,” Ms Kimheang said. “Sreymich had no choice but to lie and say the video was false because her mother would be jailed if it were true. Who would make up such a horrible story about themselves for just $200?”
“We all know what happens in Cambodian society,” she added. “My husband and RT wanted to educate people and produced this video with the hope that the government would take action.”
Ms Kimheang, who identifies as a land rights activist, also noted that Ms Malay was a former Boeng Kak community protester left in a destitute situation after she lost her home, adding that she sold her daughter’s virginity to support the family.
“Malay was a victim of land conflict. She did not receive any compensation,” she said. “She even took medicine to kill herself twice before because she found her life miserable.”
“My husband and I are working to promote human rights,” she added. “We just tried to help them to improve their living situation. I feel so lost after my husband’s arrest.”
Ms Kimheang noted that RT took all the right steps before publishing the video, adding that her husband helped the team inform relevant authorities.
“The Russian team followed all Cambodian laws before they set up the plan and made the video,” Ms Kimheang said. “Because they revealed the truth, my husband was arrested.”
Reached by email last week, Blair Dunbar with the Russia Today Press Office said RT always upholds the highest standards in its documentary filmmaking.
“In line with industry standards, we ensure that filming participants are compensated for their time and expenses as appropriate,” Mr Dunbar said. “Yet we absolutely never pay said participants for their contributions or statements, and would never prompt ‘acting’ or misrepresentations of any kind, as preposterously suggested.”
Mr Dunbar said Cambodia has long struggled with an exploitative sex industry – a matter that has been documented countless times by UN reports and independent watchdog groups.
“We were in constant liaison with authorities regarding our filming in the country and on this subject, and all participants chose to freely disclose their identities,” he said.
“It is disheartening to hear that because of ‘questioning’ by authorities, statements intended to contradict our reporting and undermine a legitimate focus on the real problem of Cambodia’s sex industry have been extracted from documentary participants.”