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Photographer released after court ordeal

Japanese photojournalist Go Takayama and two Cambodians were released from jail yesterday following a hearing in Siem Reap Provincial Court, during which charges of producing pornography and photographing teenage sex workers were withdrawn.

“The court has dropped its charges against Go Takayama and two Cambodians after [yesterday’s] hearing,” said provincial prosecutor Ty Soveinthal.

Takayama and two Cambodian colleagues, a male and female, were arrested on November 24 and charged with producing pornography after they were accused of photographing teenage sex workers in a brothel in Siem Reap.

Jessica Lim, coordinator assistant for the Angkor Photo Festival, said that the verdict was a welcome relief for the accused and for the festival, which supported Takayama in the project he was working on in Siem Reap at the time of his arrest.

“It is certainly very unfortunate what happened, but we are very happy with the court’s decision,” Lim said yesterday following the court’s verdict.

“Clearly, there was a misunderstanding of the context of the photos, but we are glad that the court’s verdict shows us that they understand.

“The lawyer explained to the court the project Mr Takayama was working on and the photos he was taking, and fortunately the court understood the context of his work.”

Lim said earlier this week that the photos at the heart of the case consisted exclusively of clothed shots of a married couple, and were shot as part of a project for the festival based on the Cambodian folktale “The Seven Colour Princess”.

Takayama’s female subject posed in a T-shirt and sarong, later removing the T-shirt to reveal a bra, while the male subject posed in shorts and no shirt.

Chea Heng, deputy chief of Siem Reap’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection office, said Takayama had hired the couple to help him shoot illicit photos.

“He has taken many naked photos of teenage women in brothels in Siem Reap,” Chea Heng said earlier this week.

Sours Vanarin, a provincial monitor for the rights group Adhoc who represented Takayama and his colleagues in court, was satisfied with the verdict.

“I warmly welcome the court’s decision in dropping the charges against these suspected people, and I think that this decision brings justice to them,” he said.

He added that police would return all seized equipment and photographs to Takayama.

Lim said the incident would have little impact on the annual festival’s efforts to bring photographic artists together and support new work.

“We will continue holding the photography workshops as we have done for many years, and we strongly believe in bringing together Asian photographers in Siem Reap; that is not going to change at all.”

The case against Takayama drew the attention of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which issued a statement earlier this week urging the Cambodian government to release him and saying that “it seems clear that he is a responsible photographer caught up in a misunderstanding, and should not be treated as a criminal”.

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