The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced 35-year-old Daniel Johnson, an American evangelical missionary, to one year in jail for sexually abusing five underage boys at his unregistered orphanage, Hope Transitions.
Presiding Judge Kim Rathnarin said Mr. Johnson was also ordered to pay a fine of four million riel, or about $1,000, under Article 43 of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Exploitation Law.
“The court sentenced Mr. Daniel Stephen Johnson to one year in prison after finding him guilty of committing indecent acts against boys under the age of 15,” Judge Rathnarin said.
Chea Nara, defense lawyer for the victims, said he was disappointed with the verdict, as he had demanded the maximum three-year sentence possible under the law due to the nature of the crimes.
Instead, “the court handed out the minimum possible punishment,” he said.
The initial operation that led to Mr. Johnson’s arrest in December was led by the American FBI, which was seeking his extradition for separate alleged crimes committed in the U.S., Pol Pithey, director of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-human trafficking police department, said at the time.
Neither Mr. Pithey nor Laro Tan, FBI attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, could be reached Tuesday for comment.
Yi Moden, deputy director of field operations for the NGO Action pour les Enfants (APLE), said he was surprised that the court did not also issue a deportation order.
“I cannot comment on the FBI’s role in the case. All I can say [is] we are not happy with how short the sentence is for abusing five boys and that there was no deportation order,” he said.
In a statement handed out to reporters on leaving the closed-door sentencing, Mr. Johnson said he intended to appeal the verdict and condemned APLE’s role in his conviction.
“With much evidence in my favor and none against me, APLE has managed to use the system to further build a name for [itself],” the statement says, adding that he had signed statements from some of the children and their families stating that they were offered or received bribes by the NGO.
“In my opinion, APLE needs to undergo serious investigation to reveal who they really are, and what they really do,” the statement ends.
APLE director Seila Samleang dismissed Johnson’s allegation and said that on the contrary, it was likely the American had exerted his own influence over the families as four of the five children had retracted or changed their statements either before or during the trial.
“The allegation is not surprising but it is simply ridiculous and he should take responsibility for what he did,” Mr. Samleang said.
The families whose children retracted or changed their statements, he claimed, hired a private lawyer whose fees are well beyond what the families can afford.