Three journalists were sentenced to five years imprisonment by Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court Wednesday for extorting $75 from a woman they had accused of trafficking women to Thailand, court officials said Thursday.
Two of the journalists, Khin Thy, 37, and Kong Vuthy, 28, worked for the little-know Kampucha Roth newspaper. The third, Un Som, 42, worked at the equally obscure Cheat Yerng newspaper.
Banteay Meanchey Chief Prosecutor Nhoung Thol said that two middlemen, whom he accused of working in concert with the journalists, had been acquitted by the court, but have not been released from custody pending the prosecution’s intent to appeal.
Nhoung Thol said the middlemen had been sent to collect the extortion money from Theang Sat, 53. No evidence had arisen to implicate Theang Sat in trafficking, and she has not been charged with any crime, he added.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Thursday that the court’s decision seemed “a bit tough” but declined to further comment until he had examined court documents.
Pen Samithi, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said the whole event seemed “abnormal.” Though the three journalists imprisoned were not members of his club, Pen Samithi urged police to investigate the case further.
“Police should take evidence from [the] journalists to find out if the woman was trafficking,” he said.
Responding to reports of injuries the journalists sustained during their pre-trial detention, Banteay Meanchey Deputy judiciary police Chief Chhoeung Sokhom denied allegations that the three had been mistreated. But the journalists had been beaten by other inmates who were angered after being told that they had to share their food with the three, he said.
Chhoeung Sokhom also defended Theang Sat, saying she was not a human trafficker. However, he confirmed that Theang Sat had taken a Cambodian woman to Thailand for work and that her family later accused Theang Sat of trafficking the woman.
According to Chhoeung Sokhom, the woman eventually returned and exonerated Theang Sat.
Presiding Judge Ney Yaran could not be reached for comment Thursday.