A South Korean pastor accused of sexually abusing several girls who lived with him at his Siem Reap City church was sentenced on Thursday to 14 years, an unprecedentedly long jail term for such crimes, according to one NGO worker.
Judge Sam Bunpov convicted 63-year-old Park Youl with purchase of child prostitution and sexual intercourse with a minor under 15 years of age, according to Siem Reap provincial court spokesman Ream Chanmony.
Mr. Park was arrested by anti-trafficking police in October on allegations that he molested nine girls on multiple occasions over several years and bribed them and their families with rice, cash and motorbikes in exchange for silence.
Khoem Vando, program director at Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), an anti-child sex abuse NGO which launched the initial investigation, said Mr. Park was also ordered to pay $70,000 total in compensation to seven of the nine victims.
The victims, many of whom had lived with Mr. Park at his Christian church, were aged between 12 and 17 at the time of the abuse, according to APLE.
Mr. Vando said the verdict and sentencing was the best possible outcome within the country’s legal framework, and a “good sign” that the courts are treating child sex offenders more seriously.
“Based on the article of the charges, the punishment is almost the maximum amount,” he said.
“Compared to other [similar] cases, this case has the longest punishment,” he added.
The court had also ordered Mr. Park’s deportation upon completion of his sentencing, Mr. Vando said.
He added, however, that “based on our assumptions, we think he’ll appeal the decision to deport.”
But Mr. Chanmony, the court spokesman, denied that the court had ordered a post-sentence deportation.
He said deportation would depend on whether Mr. Park applies for and receives a visa from Cambodia after his term is complete, and whether South Korea wants him extradited.
At the time of Mr. Park’s arrest, provincial anti-human trafficking police chief Duong Thavry said that one of the victims had decided to alert police of the abuse because she was angry that the pastor had refused to give her a motorbike, which he had given his other victims.
“The victims did not think it was a kind of sexual abuse. They thought they loved the pastor and they did not think of complaining,” Ms. Thavry said at the time.
“Also, the pastor always gave their families things. They were from poor families.”