Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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Bangkok Post
September 29 2006

Mothers sue Khmer NGO for kidnapping

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Three Cambodian mothers have lodged a complaint with a provincial court against a prominent local women's rights organisation, accusing it of the kidnap and false imprisonment of their children, a court official said Friday.

The chief prosecutor for the northern provincial court of Siem Reap, So Vat, said the women had lodged the complaint against the staff of the Siem Reap branch of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) on September 18 and demanded $1,500 in compensation for the trauma caused by the alleged incident.

In their complaint the mothers claim the three girls, then aged between nine and 15, were taken from their homes without their knowledge and held against their will in substandard conditions for two weeks in October 2003 to coerce them to agree to say that they had been sexually abused by an unidentified foreigner.

So Vat said he believed the foreigner was New Zealand national Graham Robert Cleghorn, 59, who was later convicted of rape on the testimonies of five of his legal-age former maids and sentenced to 20 years in prison in a court case spearheaded by the CWCC.

"The court will investigate these claims (by the three mothers) because it is our job. However, this has been a very long road. They waited a long time to make these complaints. I wonder if outside forces are not encouraging them now," he said, but declined to elaborate.

Mothers Hean Teun, 41, Laem San, 49, and Phel Pen, who did not provide her age, claim in the complaint that their children had been removed from their homes by CWCC Siem Reap staff in October 2003 and told they would not be allowed home until they agreed they had been sexually abused by one foreign man.

The complaint claims the girls were denied showers and toilet rights and confined to locked, mosquito-infested quarters under guard without being provided with mosquito nets, and that when they had managed to escape, they were recaptured before they could reach their families and returned to the locked room by CWCC staff by force.

The complaint further alleges that when the mothers located the girls, they were only released on the condition that the mothers agreed not to press charges in court in relation to their detention.

Contacted by telephone, Teun declined to comment on why the women had chosen to file a court complaint now, saying they could not reveal details of the case at this time.

The three girls and their mothers named in the new complaint refused to join the case against Cleghorn and are expected to serve as defence witnesses for him when his case is reheard.

Medical tests which the families have previously also claimed publicly were conducted by the CWCC without their consent showed no evidence of sexual abuse.

CWCC director Oung Chanthol was unavailable for comment on the complaint.

However, the respected human rights activist and founder of local rights group Licadho, Kek Galabru, said she stood by CWCC, which is a partner organization of Licadho.

She called the complaint "regrettable" and said her organization would fully investigate the matter.

"In my experience, the CWCC stance is not to take people unless they and their family agree to this," she said.

Cleghorn, a former tour guide, has alleged he has been framed by powerful interests who want his valuable land, located on the edge of the Angkor Wat temple complex. He has further alleged that the five women who have testified he raped them were offered money in exchange for their complaints.

Earlier this year, the New Zealand embassy stepped in to ensure he received a new and fair appeal hearing after his appeal against the sentence was turned down without Cleghorn, his lawyer or the embassy being informed it was being held.

The CWCC has repeatedly dismissed Cleghorn's allegations as "laughable" and denied his claims have any basis in fact, saying the evidence against him is strong and clear.

A new appeal hearing date for Cleghorn has yet to be set. He remains in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.