A Cambodian court on Tuesday suspended 10 months of a one-year jail term it handed to a British man found guilty of producing pornography in connection with a party in the town of Siem Reap, home to the ruins of Angkor Wat.
Cambodia, a conservative Buddhist country, is frequented by young tourists backpacking through Southeast Asia.
Daniel Jones, who was tried on Thursday in the Siem Reap provincial court, was among 10 foreigners the police detained in a January 25 raid on the event, called “Pub Crawl or Let’s Get Wet”.
Authorities said the group danced provocatively at a pool party and posted pictures of themselves dancing on social media. Almost 100 people attended, mostly Western tourists and expatriates.
Police arrived about 4pm and started rounding people up, one of the arrested people told the London Telegraph. The people taken into custody said they didn’t understand what was going on.
“We’re innocent,” one told the Telegraph, adding that authorities had also been targeting expats wearing bikinis in public and attending pub crawls. “We don’t know why we’ve been arrested – we’re getting different stories from different people.”
The court had dropped charges against the other nine foreigners and deported them, but Jones was kept in custody.
Judge Um Chan Thol ordered Jones to serve just one month and 22 days of his one-year sentence, calling his act of producing pornography “unintentional”.
“The accused said he unintentionally produced pornography that affects Khmer culture,” the judge said while reading his verdict, referring to Cambodia.
Jones had denied producing pornography.
“There was no evidence against my client,” said his lawyer, Ouch Sopheaktra. “As a lawyer, I am not happy with this decision.”
The case represents the latest clash between young foreigners who say they were blindsided by morality police and Cambodian officials who have been cracking down in recent years on Westerners they say are failing to respect the country’s mores and sacred spaces.
The prosecutor of the Siem Reap provincial court, Samrith Sokhon, told the Associated Press in January that the people who took the photos also posted them on social media, in violation of the country’s laws against producing pornography and human trafficking.
“Any people producing pornography is contrary to Cambodia’s traditions,” he said.
“They have left Cambodia,” he said. “We gave them back their passports.”
Their lawyer argued successfully that they should be released because they had not organised the party.
According to the Telegraph, the mother of one the arrested Britons, 21-year-old Billy Stevens, was heartbroken.
“It’s dreadful,” Marci Harbour, 47, told the newspaper. “I’ve managed to speak to him, but he’s had his phone taken off him now.
According to the Washington Post “authorities have clamped down on visitors posting indecent pictures of themselves at the nearby temples in the Angkor Archaelogical Park, which is considered a holy site as well as a major tourism draw.”
At least three times in 2015, a group of tourists was arrested at the Angkor Archaeological Park for taking photos of themselves naked.
At one point, the park issued fliers cautioning tourists to not desecrate the world’s largest religious monument.
And it’s not just Cambodia. People have been arrested for “naked tourism” at Machu Picchu, prompting Peruvian authorities to beef up security. A French-born exotic dancer was deported for stripping at Uluru, which is sacred to indigenous people.