Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday tried a woman accused of human trafficking after she was arrested for attempting to smuggle a 25-year-old woman to marry a man in China last year.
Presiding Judge Ly Sokleng identified the accused as Oum Sophea, a 39-year-old farmer living in Kampong Cham province’s Stung Trang district.
Judge Sokleng said that Ms Sophea was charged by the court prosecutor with unlawful removal with purpose and faces seven to 15 years in jail.
Judge Sokleng noted that Ms Sophea was arrested by officers from the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district on July 9 last year.
The victim was identified as 25-year-old Tep Sarak, a widow with two kids from the same district as the accused.
Judge Sokleng added that Ms Sophea was arrested after she brought the victim to apply for a passport in Phnom Penh.
Colonel Kim Chenda, chief of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection office at the Ministry of Interior, told the court yesterday that police knew about Ms Sophea’s human trafficking attempt after a human rights officer working with an international human rights NGO in Kampong Cham province alerted police on July 8.
“Ms Sophea was arrested on July 9 after she brought the victim to apply for a passport at the passport police department in Chbar Ampov district,” Col Chenda said. “During the police operation to arrest her, four other suspects, who were the ringleaders, escaped and are now at large.”
Col Chenda noted that after her arrest, police rescued the victim and returned her to her family in Stung Trang district. He added that police are still searching for the ringleaders.
During yesterday’s trial, Ms Sophea denied the allegations. She told the court that the victim had asked her for help to find a rich Chinese man to marry and support her poor family.
Ms Sophea added that Ms Sarak found out that her 17-year-old daughter had married a man from China and is able to send back money, around $100 to $200 every day, to support her.
Ms Sophea said she pitied the victim and helped her by introducing her to an unidentified Cambodian woman, who was a broker living in Phnom Penh.
Ms Sophea said that the unidentified woman promised to pay the victim’s family about $2,000 and $500 for her as commission.
Ms Sophea noted that after agreeing, she was asked by the unidentified woman to bring the victim to Phnom Penh on July 8 to make a passport, adding that she was arrested at 11am on the next day.
She noted that the identified woman can longer be reached and that she has not received the payment from her.
“I am not a human trafficker as the court has alleged,” Ms Sophea told the court. “I just worked to get paid.”
“I am a poor and uneducated woman,” she added. “I did not know that my work was illegal or against the law. If I had known, I would not have committed it.”
Deputy prosecutor Seng Heang said that Ms Sophea is suspected of human trafficking, noting that she had allegedly previously trafficked five Cambodian women, including her own daughter, to get married in China. She earned $2,000 for each woman as commission, he added.
“Based on the evidence and the accused’s confession, I decided to uphold the charge and ask the judges to punish her in accordance with the law,” Mr Heang said.
A verdict is due on June 7.