Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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The Dominion Post
February 18 2006

Girls take back rape allegations
Government protests that New Zealander in Cambodian jail didn't get fair hearings
by Matthew Torbit

New Zealand diplomats have intervened in the case of a Kiwi man serving 20 years in a Cambodian prison on sex charges – after the teenage complainants all retracted their evidence against him.

Graham Cleghorn, 55, a former aid worker, was jailed in February 2004 and is being held in Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.

The New Zealand Government had already raised concerns at the handling of Cleghorn's trial – which took just nine hours.

He was refused a translator, and denied the right to call his own witnesses and cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

Now diplomats have again stepped in after Cleghorn's appeal was conducted without his knowledge.

The unsuccessful appeal, secretly held last month in Siam Reap, did not allow Cleghorn to present written statements from all five women he was convicted of raping that state the sex crimes did not happen.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokeswoman Helen Tunnah said the Government had been monitoring Cleghorn's situation since he was jailed, but decided to act after news of the appeal dismissal emerged.

The New Zealand ambassador in Bangkok, Peter Rider, had met a representative at Cambodia's embassy this week to outline this country's "grave" concerns about Cleghorn's appeal being heard in his absence.

"The ambassador pointed out neither Cleghorn, his lawyer or New Zealand officials had been told the appeal was to be heard and asked for an explanation as to how this came about.

"It was emphasised that this had denied Mr Cleghorn the opportunity to present a case, which breached his right to a fair hearing."

Ms Tunnah said embassy staff were awaiting a response from Cambodian officials.

Cleghorn's two daughters have hired prominent Wellington lawyer Greg King, who said he was disgusted at the legal processes surrounding the case.

He described the appeal dismissal as a "breach of fundamental natural justice in every sense".

Cleghorn had pinned all of his hopes for freedom on the appeal. "And for that now to be dismissed without him knowing, without him being present, without him being represented, is abhorrent."

Mr King said his client was a victim of a non-government organisation, the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, which was seeking millions of dollars of foreign funding that had been poured into Southeast Asia to stop child prostitution with Western men.

"Organisations have popped up to get their hands on this funding, and the way to do this is to catch people involved in the illicit sex trade, which Graham's been caught up in."

An excerpt from one of the five teens' statements says: "I swear on oath to help the foreigner Mr. Graham that he has never touched my body."

In a statement published on the Internet soon after his conviction, Cleghorn said he was framed by corrupt officials, including Siam Reap District Court judge Ten Senarong who wanted land he owned near the ancient temple Angkor Wat.

When he refused, Judge Senarong's sister Tan Senara, who ran the local office of the crisis centre, began approaching girls in his village offering them US$10,000 each to testify that he had molested them.

In October 2003 he was arrested and charged with five counts of rape, as well as unlawful possession of a weapon.

About the same time, an Australian and Swiss national were imprisoned in similar circumstances.

Bronwyn Sloan, a Cambodian-based Australian, said she visited Cleghorn in prison before he found out the appeal had been thrown out.

"He was holding it together but he does have health problems," she said. "But I imagine he will now be totally devastated."

Ms Sloan said Cleghorn arrived in Cambodia in the late 1980s and worked as an aid worker in Cambodia's northern border camps. He formerly lived in Petone.

She said Cleghorn's Cambodian wife Der and their six-year-old child were distraught at his treatment.