Tens of thousands of viewers have circulated a video online of a woman pleading in Khmer for rescue from forced labor at a Sihanoukville scam compound, as authorities say the woman has now been removed and is in the process of being sent back to her home country of Vietnam.
Criminal businesses based in Sihanoukville and around Cambodia have been running online scams across the world, cheating people out of vast sums often through false investment schemes. Thousands of workers at those scam operations have been unable to leave them after being lured into believing they were going to get legitimate jobs.
Most of the workers are foreign nationals, frequently from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the response from the Cambodian public has been muted for months.
But when a video emerged within the past month of a woman pleading in Khmer for rescue, it was soon reshared more than 56,000 times on Facebook, especially based on a post by the Phnom Penh Hot News account. In the video, the woman cries for help and shows the view from her window, saying she is in room number 819. A VOD reporter who has repeatedly visited Sihanoukville’s scam compounds recognized the compound as Jin Bei 4.
On Thursday, the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration issued a statement to address the widely shared video.
It said the woman had faced 14-15-hour working days at the compound in Sihanoukville’s Buon commune. She had a six-month contract, but after three months was asked to sign on for six more months. So she asked to leave, but the company refused, the statement said.
“She wanted the authorities to get her out of the company as soon as possible because she wanted to return to her home country to see her sick mother,” it said, explaining why she had posted her video. It denied there were weapons at the compound as alleged in her video, and called on the media and members of the public to stop sharing misinformation.
The statement added that the woman was Vietnamese, and provincial spokesman Kheang Phearum said on Friday that she had been sent to immigration authorities. It was not explained how she knew Khmer.
A staff member of the labor rights group Central in Sihanoukville, who asked to have his name withheld in order to avoid jeopardizing future cooperation with authorities to rescue victims, said his organization had helped in five rescues involving around 50 total individuals. The Central employee said authorities still seemed to deny some aspects of victims’ cases.
“They say it is not true,” he said, adding that the illegal operations themselves were rarely mentioned in police reports. “They don’t reveal their identities — there is no identity of the company that broke the law … and they say that people share fake news. Most of the reports deny it and they hide it. There are more issues but it is difficult for us to say.”