A Poipet brothel owner was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the 1998 beating death of a prostitute in what observers say is the first successful prosecution of those guilty of committing crimes against sex workers.
Meach Bunrith was convicted of murdering 24-year-old Neang Thy Pheung after she refused to have sex with a client, according to Kep Sorn, Banteay Meanchey province court chief.
Following testimony from 10 witnesses, including members of an investigative team from the human rights group Adhoc, Meach Bunrith confessed to the crime at his March 29 trial, Kep Sorn said Monday.
Kao Kim Hourn, executive director for the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said this conviction marks a serious shift in the way the courts are treating these types of cases.
“This is the first tangible result we’ve seen of the [judicial] reforms, the courts are moving in the right direction,” Kao Kim Hourn said Tuesday. “But we should not be content with just this first case. We have to wait and see how the law is applied to other cases.”
The Meach Bunrith case became for human rights watchers an example of the impunity often enjoyed by brothel owners—particularly in the more remote areas where local police and military often have a stake in the sex industry.
Meach Bunrith was able to re-open his brothel shortly after his release from jail in September 1998, and was only rearrested that December at the urging of the Ministry of Women’s affairs.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)