A Cambodian woman on Thursday described in court how she and her two sisters were recruited under false pretenses by a gang who tried to traffic them and another woman to China as brides.
Kean Ny, 28, was speaking at the trial of four suspects at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, held nearly one year after they were arrested.
Three of the suspects were tried in absentia after their lawyer said they were unable to attend due to health problems. The fourth denied any involvement.
Alleged recruiter Chan Sokkhim, 46, who was not present during the hearing, faces between seven and 15 years in prison if found guilty of “unlawful recruitment for exploitation” under Article 12 of the Law on Human Trafficking. Alleged conspirers Khim Chantrea, 23, his mother Bun Sim, 60, and his aunt Bun Hour, 56, face up to five years for “receipt of a person for the purpose of assisting the offender” under Article 20.
Mr. Chantrea was the only defendant present at the hours-long trial.
Ms. Ny told the court how Ms. Sokkhim came to her hometown in Kompong Thom province last June with the promise that the women would earn $500 per month as housekeepers in Singapore.
Four women agreed to go—Ms. Ny, her two sisters Kean Nat, 22, and 23-year-old Kean Nay, and Nguon Lida, 29.
Instead, the four were bussed to Vietnam, before being flown to Burma and back to Vietnam again, Ms. Ny said. She later gathered that the trip to Burma was to obtain Chinese visas, she said.
She realized what was happening, she said, when a fifth suspect—who has not been found—told her over the telephone at an airport to “get one husband together” if she did not want to be separated from her sisters. At this point, the group fled, she said. A local helped the women get safely to the Cambodian border, she added.
Mr. Chantrea denied he was involved in attempting to traffic the women, claiming that he was simply helping them with their immigration documents before their flight to Burma.
“I saw the date of [our] flights were the same, and they were also Khmer and also women, so I helped fill out the forms,” he said.
Ms. Ny, however, said Mr. Chantrea had taken the women’s passports, and organized and paid for their accommodation.
Lawyers for the victims asked the judge to change the charges for all four suspects to Article 11—“unlawful removal for cross-border transfer”—which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Helen Sworn, international director of anti-trafficking organization Chab Dai, who said bride-trafficking was a “growing issue” in Cambodia, agreed the lesser charge’s sentencing was too soft.
“We need a much stronger sentencing to set a precedent,” she said.
The verdicts are set to be announced on June 23.
(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)
sony@cambodiadaily.com
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