But the 1-year sentence imposed by the court has some anti-paedophile activists concerned that punishments for those who sexually abuse children are too lenient.
IT WAS A VERY LIGHT SENTENCE FOR THE MAN TO RECEIVE ONLY ONE YEAR IN PRISON.
PHNOM Penh Municipal Court convicted a French national of having sex with a 16-year-old Cambodian girl during a hearing Tuesday, sentencing him to three years’ jail and ordering him to pay 2 million riels (US$481) in compensation to the mother of the victim.
But Jacques Bernard Rene Collinet, 61, is to serve only a single year in prison after presiding judge Chhay Kong suspended the remainder of his sentence, drawing complaints from local anti-paedophilia activists about the lightness of the punishment.
Collinet was arrested April 12 in Daun Penh district’s Kandal II commune and charged with purchasing child prostitution. Collinet denied the charges during a public hearing on September 9, saying he only paid the girl for a massage and was physically unable to have sex with her due to a medical condition, alibis the judge rejected for lack of evidence.
Samleang Seila, country director of Action Pour Les Enfants, an anti-paedophile NGO, told the Post after the verdict that the conviction was a positive sign, but that the group would appeal the length of the sentence.
“It was a very light sentence for the man to receive only one year in prison,” he said.
“We have prepared this week to appeal the light conviction, calling for a more severe conviction against the man to stand as a warning for other sex tourists, who may think that purchasing child prostitution in Cambodia is not prosecuted [harshly].”
During last week’s hearing, Judge Chhay Kong also strongly rejected an accusation by Collinet’s defence lawyer Dun Vibol that his client was the victim of a conspiracy between anti-paedophile NGOS, NGO shelters and police, who had ganged up to “prosecute foreigners to earn money”.
The judge described the accusation as “confusing” and lacking any credible evidence.
Samleang Seila said the accusations of a conspiracy to extort foreigners were “not only untrue but also an insult”.
Twisted path to justice
The conviction comes in the midst of Twisted Traveler, an US law enforcement operation targeting Americans who travel to Cambodia to have sex with children. As a Frenchman, Collinet would not qualify.
Under the US programme – which saw four American nationals charged in the US this month – offenders will face child sex charges under US law, which calls for sentences of up to 30 years.
US Ambassador Carol Rodley said September 1 that the harsher penalties mandated under American law would be a “powerful deterrent” to sex tourism.
“These new charges clearly demonstrate to the Cambodian people that the United States will not tolerate this type of abuse,” she said.