Preah Sihanouk prosecutors have provisionally charged a Chinese human-trafficking rescuer with incitement to discriminate and false declaration amid accounts of widespread forced labor of foreign nationals in the country.
Chen Baorong, who leads the Cambodia-China Charity Team, was among four people accused by authorities of fabricating a story that a trafficking victim had his blood harvested after refusing to work in global scam operations based in Sihanoukville.
Thai, Pakistani, Chinese and other foreign nationals have been rescued from such operations in recent months, with some victims speaking of torture, abuse and being bought and sold among scam operations. Some have spoken of their gratitude to Chen for aiding in their rescue and recovery.
Huot Vichet, deputy prosecutor and spokesman for the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, said on Wednesday that Chen and two others had their cases sent to an investigating judge on provisional charges of incitement to discriminate and false declaration.
False declaration, defined in the Criminal Code as “providing a false declaration to a public body for the purpose of obtaining an allowance, a payment or any unlawful advantage,” carries a prison term of six months to two years.
Incitement to discriminate, which relates to maliciousness against “a particular ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” can be punished by one to three years in prison.
The fourth individual — who had told media his blood was harvested — remains in hospital in Phnom Penh. The “blood slave” story was widely reported in Chinese and other international media.
Months of emerging accounts of forced labor in Sihanoukville and elsewhere in the country have linked human-trafficking hubs to prominent businesspeople and a ruling party senator. Thai police have spoken of working “continuously” to coordinate repatriations of Thai nationals from scam operations.
IJM Cambodia director Jacob Sims said on Wednesday that the anti-human trafficking NGO was concerned by the reports and called for action.
“We are deeply concerned about the high number of reports and witness testimonies of labor exploitation and forced labor from within scamming operations in Sihanoukville and around Cambodia and urge the Cambodian government to prioritize victim relief and accountability for the perpetrators,” Sims said.
U.S.-headquartered nonprofit Winrock International, which works on human trafficking issues in Cambodia, directed a request for comment to the U.S. Embassy.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga and Michael Dickison
Updated at 7 p.m. with NGO comments.