PHNOM PENH - A Cambodian court jailed a fixer and translator for two years on Wednesday for his role in making a documentary about sex trafficking in the Southeast Asian country which the government said contained "fake news".
Prime Minister Hun Sen has launched a crackdown on government critics, including human rights advocates and opposition politicians, and has in recent years used the term "fake news" to discredit dissenting voices.
Rath Rott Mony, 48, was arrested in Thailand and sent back to Cambodia last year as he attempted to travel to the Netherlands with his family after helping produce the documentary for the Russia Today channel.
The documentary Mony worked on, titled "My Mother Sold Me", included an account of a poor Cambodian girl who was sold into sex work, prompting authorities to question those involved.
Authorities have said the girl and her mother were paid $200 to lie in the documentary, which damaged Cambodia's reputation. Russia Today has said that it never pays participants or interview subjects for a report.
Judge Koy Sao said Mony, who is also the president of the Cambodian Construction Workers Trade Union Federation (CCTUF), was convicted of incitement to cause discrimination, without elaborating.
Sao ordered Mony to pay $17,500 compensation to two of the mothers, Keo Malai and Tep Sreylin, who appeared in the film.
The two said Mony had promised to help solve a land dispute and open a shop for them if they made up the story about their daughters.
"I didn't sell my daughter and Mony told me to say negative things so that there would be more funding," Malai told Reuters after the verdict.
On Friday, the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh expressed concern over the case.
"Reports on Mony's trial suggest that he was not provided fair trial guarantees," spokeswoman Emily Zeeberg said in an emailed statement. "His sentencing further erodes the credibility of the Cambodian judicial system."
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Cambodia was trying to cover up the very serious poverty that compels urban families to encourage their daughters to engage in sex work.
"The push to imprison Mony is an example of Cambodia playing 'shoot the messenger' of a person who told the international community about an inconvenient reality the government wants to hide," Robertson said in a statement.
Mony's wife, Long Kimheang, said her husband had only worked as a translator.
"The court's decision to put my husband in prison for two years is not justice," Kimheang told Reuters.