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Court finds American guilty of sexually abusing underage girls

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday found an American man guilty of committing indecent acts against three underage girls and sentenced him to one year in prison.

Harvey Alexander Johnson, 57, was also ordered to pay US$3,000 in compensation to one of the victims as well as a fine of 4 million riels ($962).

Police arrested Johnson in August 2009 in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak commune after the local child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) presented authorities with statements by 10 underage girls accusing him of sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing on Tuesday.

Presiding Judge Chhay Kong said Wednesday that Johnson would be deported after serving his one-year term.

Samleang Seila, APLE’s country director, said he was relatively pleased with the verdict, adding that he was concerned that Johnson, an English teacher, would have continued to abuse young girls had he not been arrested.

“The sentence seems to be too light, but it is acceptable because the victims were not abused too seriously,” he said.

Johnson faced up to five years in prison, but Samleang Seila said the one-year sentence was sufficient in light of the fact that Johnson will be deported.

“The deportation of the man from Cambodia will provide safety for the victims, and will prevent him from continuing his sexual abuse against other girls in Cambodia,” he said.

Defence lawyer Dun Vibol said he would appeal the compensation total. “My client’s acts were not serious against the victim. He just intended to touch the girl within the teacher-student relationship.”

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