Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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Mainichi Daily News
June 1 2006

Cambodian girls accuse women's group of coercing rape testimony against Australian

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Nine Cambodian girls on Thursday recanted their accusations against a convicted Australian rapist, saying that a nonprofit women's group abused and coerced them into giving testimony that led to his conviction three years ago.

The girls told Cambodia's Appeals Court that 39-year-old Bart Lauwaert was innocent.

Lauwaert is appealing his 2003 rape conviction and a 20-year prison sentence. The girls were between 14 and 18 years old when he allegedly abused them, and two of them worked as maids at his house in Siem Reap until his arrest in 2002.

But in an unusual twist Thursday, the girls said they were coerced by the nonprofit Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC), which had provided them with shelter, into accusing Lauwaert of raping them.

"Bart is innocent. He is like a Buddhist monk," Khoeun Savy, now 18.

"I am dropping the charge against him because he never raped me. At the provincial court, the organization (CWCC) made me say he had raped me," she added.

Hoeung Kieng, also believed to be in her late teens, said the CWCC "detained me at their center for six months and mentally tortured me by not letting us out of the compound."

Oung Chanthol, the CWCC director, said the girls were originally brought to her center in Siem Reap by provincial police, who had received complaints about sexual abuse inside Lauwaert's residence. The nonprofit CWCC was established in 1997 to combat violence against women and children.

She said the girls had remained consistent in their original allegations against Lauwaert up through the trial in early 2003.

"For me, it is regretful that the children have been manipulated," Oung Chanthol said. "This is not a usual case. Money must have been involved. They have been instigated into changing their stories."

The nine alleged victims attended Thursday's hearing without any legal representation. They were accompanied by their parents and denied they had been bribed by the defense to drop their complaints against Lauwaert.

Saly Theara, who led the three-judge Appeals Court panel, adjourned the hearing until June 9 to announce the verdict.

After the hearing, Lauwaert, who was born in Belgium, said he was "totally innocent."

"I never abused or raped anyone," he said. "No one ever complained against me until the CWCC kidnapped the girls (from) my house, and they offered them money to complain against foreigners."

Oung Chanthol flatly denied the allegation. (AP)