A group of 10 foreign tourists appeared in court today after being arrested for producing “pornographic” photos in Siem Reap town on Thursday, while dozens more were detained temporarily and let go after being lectured on their behaviour, according to authorities.
A report posted to the National Police website Saturday said that police on Thursday “cracked down on a place where pornographic pictures and tools were displayed” in an operation led by Deputy Provincial Anti-Human Trafficking Police Chief Duong Thavry and coordinated by Siem Reap Provincial Court Prosecutor Keut Vannareth.
Thavry declined to comment today, referring questions to the prosecutor before adding “this case affects the face of the country”.
According to the report, 77 tourists were brought to the provincial headquarters, “educated and let free”, while 10 suspects – whom the report labelled “organisers” – were arrested.
Prosecutor Vannareth would only say he was taking action according to legal procedures before hanging up on a reporter.
Subsequent calls to Vannareth and Thavry went unanswered.
Court spokesperson Yin Srang could not be reached, while Riem Channy, a spokesperson for the court prosecutor, and Thavry’s direct superior Chea Heng, both said they lacked enough information to comment. Tep Channa, the Siem Reap town police chief, confirmed the operation was carried out by provincial police and that the municipal authorities were not involved. Tit Narong, Siem Reap provincial police chief, could not be reached for comment.
According to the National Police posting, the 10 comprised six British nationals, two Canadians, one New Zealander and one defendant whose citizenship was not identified, though Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement that it was in contact with the British nationals arrested in Cambodia, and the number of suspects was five, not six.
A relative of one of the detainees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the British Embassy in Phnom Penh had said the suspects were sent to pre-trial detention after appearing in court today on the accusation they had produced pornographic photos, a charge which is pending investigation. If charged and convicted under Article 39 of a law on sexual exploitation, which covers pornography, they could face one month to one year imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 to 2,000,000 riels, or about $50 to $500.
The family member also said the 10 were made to sign and thumbprint documents in Khmer by the court prosecutor. They described the arrest as occurring at a party at a private residence.
"At 4pm, 30 police officers arrived and arrested him and his friends. Ladies that were sunbathing by the pool in bikinis were told not to dress and had photos taken," the relative said, adding that police demanded bribes. Information about court procedures or the nature of the charges was also seemingly withheld from the detainees, according to the relative.
Alongside group shots of the suspects, the National Police also posted photos of people – fully clothed – appearing to engage in simulated sex acts. However, the individuals appear to be different from those arrested and the photos were taken at night, though the crackdown occurred during daylight hours.
In past years, authorities have clamped down on visitors posting indecent pictures of themselves at the nearby temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is considered a holy site as well as a major tourism draw, but Siem Reap has otherwise long been tolerant of throngs of backpackers and other visitors engaging in the raucous local nightlife and bar scene.