Cambodian Documentary Fixer Released From Prison After Serving Two-Year Term

2020.12.11
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Cambodian Documentary Fixer Released From Prison After Serving Two-Year Term Rath Rott Mony takes part in a spiritual cleansing ceremony after his release from prison in Phnom Penh, Dec. 11, 2020.
Photo: RFA

A Cambodian fixer for Russian state-owned TV network Russia Today (RT) was released from prison Friday after completing his two-year term and paying 70 million riels (U.S. $17,200) in fines for “incitement,” although his case remains up in the air pending an appeal.

Rath Rott Mony fled Cambodia for Thailand to seek asylum after helping a visiting crew from RT to make a documentary about child prostitution in the country that was broadcast in October 2018. He was arrested by Thai police two months later and handed back to Cambodian authorities.

After a six-month investigation, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered Rath Rott Mony jailed for two years and fined him 35 million riels (U.S. $8,600) each to plaintiffs Keo Malai and Tep Sreylin, who said he had promised to help them solve a land dispute and open a shop if they made up stories about forcing their daughters into prostitution for the documentary, entitled “My Mother Sold Me.”

Authorities have said the film contained “fake news” and damaged Cambodia's reputation.

Rath Rott Mony told RFA’s Khmer Service that he walked out of prison at around 3:00 p.m. on Friday, but said he was confused about whether he is a free man. While he was released, he had appealed his case to the Supreme Court, which ordered Cambodia’s Appeals Court to retry him, and the latter has yet to do so.

He said that while he is happy to be out of prison, he has been unable to see his wife and child because they fled the country over security concerns.

“My hope was to see my wife and kid after I was released, but I haven’t been able to do so because while I was imprisoned, my wife campaigned for my release and later faced threats and intimidation,” he said.

“She fled the country for her own security. I am so disappointed that I couldn’t see them after two years. I miss them so much.”

Rath Rott Mony said he hopes the Appeals Court will retry his case.

“I hope the Appeals Court will drop all charges against me,” he said.

“I was a media fixer about poverty and other related problems for Cambodians. I was a fixer and translator—I never thought that what I did was a serious matter until they imprisoned me.”

Rath Rott Mony said he had worked for RT for three years and found the outlet to operate professionally and with respect to the code of ethics.

He said that during his detention, he was held with other political prisoners in a slightly larger cell than most inmates—which allowed him to maintain social distancing—and was provided with a mask to protect against transmission of the coronavirus. Otherwise, Rath Rott Mony said his health is good, although he lost some weight in jail.

No date has been set for the Appeals Court retrial.

‘An affront to media freedom’

Rath Rott Mony’s sentencing drew criticism from several rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, which said at the time that he “should have never been arrested, much less tried and convicted,” and called the charges against him “an affront to media freedom.”

RT has said that Rath Rott Mony was hired solely as a “fixer and interpreter” and had no control over the narrative of the documentary, and that it obtained signed authorizations from everyone who appeared in the film.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government banned the American nongovernmental organization Agape International Missions in August 2017, one month after CNN broadcast a documentary on the child sex trade in Cambodia for which one of the NGO’s representatives served as a guide.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Cambodia 144th out of 180 countries and territories in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, down from 143rd in 2019.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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