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Sok Panha (right), who was arrested last year on human trafficking charges, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Sok Panha (right), who was arrested last year on human trafficking charges, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Hong Menea

Brothel escape recounted

Three women who believed they had been recruited to work in garment factories in Malaysia fled a hotel in Kuala Lumpur last year after being forced into prostitution, Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard yesterday.

Sok Panha, 36, appeared in court yesterday on human trafficking charges following her arrest on August 20, the presiding judge, Suos Sam Ath, said.

“She has recruited and lured the unsuspecting young women from Cambodia after promising them highly paid garment work in Malaysia,” he said. “But when the victims arrived in Malaysia, they were forced to work as prostitutes.”

One of the complainants, 22, told the court she had known Panha for about two months before the accused introduced her to a Chinese-Malaysian man named Mai who, at Panha’s request, arranged for her and two other women to move to Malaysia by way of a bus through Thailand.

“The reason I decided to accept her offer of work in Malaysia was because she promised me between $700 and $800 per month,” she said. “But when we arrived in Malaysia, we were forced to work as prostitutes – sleeping with foreign men in a hotel there. And after sex with clients, our payment was taken by Mr Mai.”

The three women, she continued, were forced to have sex with “many” Chinese and Malaysian men. Unable to bear more, they fled to the Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur to raise the alarm. “We ran out of the hotel and took a taxi to the embassy to beg for intervention and help,” she said.

Panha yesterday denied the allegations, saying she had recruited the women for work in Malaysia at their request, but had no idea that Mai was forcing them into sex work.

“I did not sell them into prostitution,” she said. “I would like to ask the court to drop the charges and release me.”

Colonel So Mandy, chief of the Ministry of Interior’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection unit, said two Chinese-Malaysian men were also arrested by police in Malaysia in relation to the case. He added that Panha was arrested after the victims, working with police, arranged a meeting with her. She has been charged with “the act of selling, buying or exchanging a person with purpose.

A verdict is due to be handed down on February 10.

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