Two Swedish men were jailed for life in the Philippines for human trafficking after they were found running a cybersex den in which nude women performed for Internet clients, authorities said on Wednesday.
Bo Stefan Sederholm, 31, and Emil Andreas Solemo, 35, were given the unprecedented convictions on Tuesday in what the judge presiding over the case and the government said should deliver a warning to all human traffickers.
"Disrespect for Filipino women and violations of our laws deserve the strongest condemnations from this court," judge Jeoffre Acebido said in his ruling, according to the clerk of the court, Nelison Salcedo.
"It will not shirk from its duty to impose the most severe of penalties against anybody, be he a foreign national or a citizen of this country, who tramples upon the dignity of a woman by taking advantage of her vulnerability."
Salcedo told AFP the two Swedes were arrested when police raided a commercial building in the tiny southern Philippine town of Kauswagan in April 2009 and found 17 naked Filipinas before computer screens.
The women were given 15,000 pesos ($350) a month to act at the bidding of online clients who paid by credit card.
"Once the client has paid for a private show, anything goes," said Salcedo, adding the women used sex toys.
Cybersex dens have become a growing problem in the impoverished Philippines, according to law enforcers and social workers. Police have raided dozens in recent years and made many arrests.
But Salcedo said the ruling was a Philippine landmark because it was the first time a court had convicted anyone for their involvement in cybersex operations.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima hailed the ruling and said it was part of a broader campaign against human traffickers that was launched last year after the US government placed the Philippines on a watchlist.
"The conviction sends a strong warning to other violators," de Lima told AFP. "This is part of our intensified, gung-ho efforts versus human trafficking as we continue to aspire for delisting from (US) Tier 2 watchlist."
The US government says being on its Tier 2 watchlist means a country is not fully complying with minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, and a further deterioration could attract sanctions.
Remmy Rikken, head of the Philippine Commission on Women that advises President Benigno Aquino on women's affairs, said Tuesday's verdict owed much to de Lima's anti-human trafficking crusade.
Rikken said de Lima last year assigned human trafficking cases to a special task force of prosecutors, doing away with the previous practice of letting provincial prosecutors handle cases.
"Before that there would be a lot of arrests but there were no convictions at all," Rikken told AFP.
The task force tracks all types of human trafficking, including women and children being forced into prostitution or as subjects for pornography.
Rikken said that, before Tuesday's verdicts, 42 people had been convicted on human trafficking charges over the past two months but that none of them were for cybersex-related activities.
Three Filipinos who were arrested in the raid alongside the Swedes were given 20-year prison terms, according to Salcedo, the court clerk.
The Swedes attracted longer jail sentences because they had set up the operation and the three Filipinos worked for them, Salcedo said.
The five convicts have 15 days to appeal the court ruling, she said.
Par Kageby, senior consular officer for the Swedish embassy in Bangkok that oversees Sweden's consulate in Manila, confirmed the court ruling against the men.
"We learned that they have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison," Kageby said.