Two Swedes jailed for life over Philippine cybersex den

Kim and Maricel (not their real names) Young women and girls are often forced to work as cybersex chat girls

Two Swedish men, arrested in 2009, have been jailed for life for running a cybersex operation in the Philippines.

A court in the southern Philippines found Bo Stefan Sederholm, 31, and Emil Andreas Solemo, 35, guilty of trafficking charges.

The life sentences are unprecedented both for their severity and for the spotlight they cast on cybersex dens.

These involve naked women chatting and performing sexual acts in front of webcams for internet clients.

Three Filipinos were given 20-year jail sentences for helping the Swedes, who had set up the internet and payment systems, to run the business.

Regional court clerk Nelison Salcedo was quoted by AFP as saying judge Jeoffre Acebido had stressed the need to protect women.

"Disrespect for Filipino women and violations of our laws deserve the strongest condemnations from this court," Ms Salcedo quoted from the judge's ruling.

"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."

Under-age fears

The Swedes were arrested when police raided a commercial building in the town of Kauswagan, Mindanao, in April 2009.

Police found 17 naked Filipinas in front of computer screens, some of them under-age.

They were described as having been forced into performing cybersex.

Ms Salcedo was quoted as saying that the women were paid 15,000 pesos ($350) a month.

"Once the client has paid for a private show, anything goes," she said.

The Swedish embassy in Bangkok, which oversees the Swedish consulate in Manila, confirmed the court ruling.

"We learned that they have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison," said senior consular officer Par Kageby.

Cybersex, or sexually explicit chat over the internet, is a growing industry in many parts of the world; business is booming in the Philippines.

The BBC's Manila correspondent, Kate McGeown, says an already established sex trade, high levels of poverty and a population that speaks at least basic English means there is a ready supply of girls.

Officials estimate that thousands could be working in the small apartments that are the usual locations of these so-called cybersex dens.

All internet sex is classed as pornography and therefore illegal in the Philippines, but what most concerns the authorities is the number of girls who are trafficked into these dens - many of whom are well under 18, the legal age of consent.

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