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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Embassies accused of helping sex offenders

Embassies accused of helping sex offenders

Embassies accused of helping sex offenders

THE secret July 3 release of suspected Japanese child pornographer Kazuyuki Kobata

due to alleged diplomatic pressure from the Japanese embassy has drawn a storm of

protest from child protection advocates.

Prey Sor prison officials announced Kobata's release on July 14, saying that charges

against the suspect had been dropped for unknown reasons. Kobata subsequently fled

Cambodia.

Kobata was charged on June 20 with debauchery involving children after police discovered

he had paid children between the ages of eight and eleven to pose for nude photographs.

Kobata told the court that he was ignorant of Cambodian laws and had taken the photos

"for fun".

Yim Po, executive director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children's

Rights, blamed Kobata's release on intervention by unnamed "corrupt government

officials and influence from the Japanese embassy".

Po's allegations are in stark contrast to statements made by Japanese embassy First

Secretary Horiuchi Toshiko after Kobata's arrest, indicating that if convicted in

Cambodia, Kobata faced possible later prosecution in Japan under that country's extraterritoriality

law on sex crimes.

In an Aug 2 interview with the Post, Horiuchi said Po's allegations had no validity.

"We had no involvement in the Cambodian authorities' decision to release Mr

Kobata," Horiuchi said. "We think [Po's allegations] are his imagination."

Horiuchi reiterated the possibility that Kobata may yet be prosecuted in Japan for

his alleged child sex offenses in Cambodia.

"Generally speaking, Japanese nationals who commit crimes [abroad] under [Japan's]

Law for Punishing Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for

Protecting Children can be arrested and prosecuted for this in Japan," he said.

While the Japanese Embassy's role in Kobata's release remains ambiguous, child welfare

workers say diplomatic pressure is a commonly applied tool to free foreign child-sex

suspects.

According to Po, child protection advocates have consistently noted such intervention

from embassy officials in cases of foreigners arrested for sex crimes in Cambodia.

"For local authorities it's difficult to prosecute foreigners because every

time police arrest foreigners accused of child sex crimes there is intervention from

their embassies for their release," Po said.

"The Cambodian government is lenient toward foreign suspects and prefers to

solve the problem without a trial."

Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, told the

Post the approximately 30 cases involving foreigners that she has documented in the

past three years have all involved pressure from embassies to get the suspects released.

"So far in all the cases involving foreigners accused of sexually exploiting

children, we usually recognize the role of embassies attempting to influence the

[legal] process," Oung said. "But if their citizens have committed a crime,

they shouldn't interfere ... they have to let the Cambodian courts do their job and

help to strengthen the legal process."

Embassies of countries who are major aid donors to Cambodia are particularly guilty

of using diplomatic pressure to free arrested citizens, Oung said.

"Authorities [who release foreign child sex suspects] say they want to keep

good diplomatic relations [with the country involved], especially if those countries

are major humanitarian donors," she said.

"The embassies won't ask directly [for a suspect's release] but will ask the

authorities to take into account their desire to protect their citizen and how prison

conditions are not adequate for their citizens," she said.

While recognizing the responsibility of embassies to provide assistance to their

nationals in legal difficulties in Cambodia, Phnom Penh-based street child protection

advocate Sebastien Marot says that in cases involving child sex suspects, embassies

regularly overstep their legal and moral bounds.

"If by doing their job they free a guy who had done something wrong, [embassies]

are going against the laws of this country," Marot told the Post.

"In the cases of countries with extraterritoriality laws, when their embassies

get a child abuser free from jail they're actually violating their own laws."

Chanthol Oung suggests that embassy efforts to free foreign child sex suspects are

hypocritical and undermine the already shaky foundations of Cambodia's judicial system.

"Embassies ... devote so much money to help build up the rule of law and the

development of Cambodia," she said. "But by helping citizens who have broken

laws regarding sex with children, they're actually contributing to impunity in Cambodia."

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