Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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The Dominion Post
March 6 2006

'If New Zealand can't help me, I would want to die' - Cleghorn
'I am not guilty and I have not been given a fair trial'
by Bronwyn Sloan

A Petone man languishing in a Cambodian jail on rape charges is appealing for a fair hearing. Bronwyn Sloan visited him in Phnom Penh.

Graham Cleghorn says he has lost more than 10 kilograms in jail.

He is pale and has difficulty catching his breath after the short walk from his cramped cell, which he shares with about two dozen other men – whose convictions range from stealing chickens to murder. He complains of chest pain, numbness in his feet and says all his teeth have rotted since he began his 20-year sentence for rape.

His visiting rights are severely restricted and visitors who do make it inside are closely guarded throughout the visit. A handwritten love letter from wife Buot Touer and a letter from one of his daughters are carefully read by prison staff before being handed over. He is dressed in a tattered T-shirt and shorts and his hair is close-shaven in an attempt to keep head lice at bay. He is stiff from sleeping on a cement floor.

"All I am asking for is two things: a fair trial where my witnesses can be heard and for the New Zealand Government to request an independent investigation into the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre which brought the charges against me and took my life away," Cleghorn told The Dominion Post yesterday.

Representatives of the New Zealand embassy in Bangkok are expected to arrive this week to meet Cambodian Justice Minister Ang Vong Wattana and ask why Cleghorn's appeal in January was held without his knowledge, presence or legal representation, and why the court again failed to call or hear witnesses in his defence.

Cleghorn found out about the appeal hearing about a month after it was held.

Proving his innocence was the most important factor in his fight to be heard, he said.

"The food is inedible in here. The prison staff (are) good and fair, but they can't help overcrowding and a range of diseases from scabies to malaria breaking out among us prisoners. These are the conditions in a Cambodian prison, and if I was guilty I would deserve them and accept them. The fact is, I am not guilty, and I have not been given a fair trial for me to be able to prove that."

The girls who testified against him were "girls I had previously fired for sneaking out of my house at night and flirting with the soldiers at the military camp next door, because I told their mothers that it wasn't safe and I couldn't guarantee their safety if they were out at night, and girls my wife fired because they left without notice to harvest rice for two weeks and then came back expecting that their positions were still open. We were growing a hectare of vegetables ourselves at that point. We needed staff, and we couldn't wait two weeks for them to come back".

He said: "While I am in here I am just a burden on my kids. You can't live here without someone sending a little money to buy decent rice and a bit of fruit once in a while. I am old enough to know that when hope is gone, there is no point living.

"If my government cannot get me a fair hearing, I will not spend the rest of my life here in this jail. I would want to die, and I would do that job myself. Wouldn't you?"