ARE THE CHILD ABUSE NGOs IN CAMBODIA STEPPING OVER THE LINE?
-Or is everybody accused of child sexual abuse a lying pervert only fit for the scaffold?
-Or is everybody accused of child sexual abuse a lying pervert only fit for the scaffold?
Since the report was made, the British Embassy which helps funds prosecutions of foreign padeophiles has discontinued monitoring of the court in Phnom Penh - notably in the above case.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that Britain Matthew Harland, ‘was categorically denied (the right) to present ‘any allegations or evidence’.
Language twisting trick
‘The judges did not seem to be interested in his voice. The translator stated only most of the information by the judge’s panel and only a tiny fraction of information from (the defendant) to the judge was translated. There was (in my opinion) also a language twisting trick used by court officials,” said the Khmer official, an English speaking academic and qualified medical doctor.
Harland's case was initially monitored under a worldwide computer based scheme known as 'The Compass Reports'.
In this case the Khmer doctor also reported that at a pre-trial hearing Harland, from Southampton, Hants., who had managed one of Cambodia's first 'child safe' hotels and was a manager for Online, Cambodia's leading ISP, declined the services of a lawyer provided for him, and another one was brought in within 30 minutes and expected to defend him without any briefing, using the court appointed lawyer paid for by the prosecution. Only under protest was the case adjourned.
The Harland case was trumpeted by Britain’s CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) who stated that Harland has been arrested by Hampshire Police in 2005 and bailed on suspicion of possession of child pornography.
Further CEOP stated their officers had been invited to Cambodia by the Royal Cambodian Police after receiving information from the non-government organization APLE (Action for Les Enfants) and had assisted by sharing information, helping prepare a child care strategy for the victims, assisted in the forensic examination of Harland’s computers, and helped prepare the case for trial.
(The information from APLE was that he had been spotted with young girls and seen swimming inappropriately with them in a public pool in Phnom Penh).
|CEOP boss Jim Gamble with John Walsh|
“This crime will not be tolerated no matter where in the world you think you can go to escape capture”.
Its easy to see why CEOP saw alarm bells when APLE informed them that they had photographed Harland around Phnom Penh with clearly under aged Khmer girls behaving 'inappropriately'. The fact that Harland had been interviewed in connection with a computer which, Harland said, had been found among stolen property, and which allegedly had indecent images of children on it, would have caused them serious concern.
But in the UK Harland had not been charged with any offence or appeared in any court. He had merely been asked to present himself to a police station at a later date. He had bought a return ticket to Phnom Penh and claimed he had checked with police but his interview date had been deferred.
|'I never touched them inappropriately'|
And no evidence, was presented during his trial of possession of pornographic material of children either from the UK or Phnom Penh.
This would have been essential if the prosecution wished to paint the same picture to the court which had been painted to the media in news releases.
With the backing of Britain’s CEOP and his suspect character established, protests by Harland would of course have had little significance. He had been accused of the rape of two under-aged girls and indecently assaulting another. Most people would have little time for the minutiae. Phnom Penh's foreign internet forums were filling up with comments fired with rage. though one or two people who knew him, courageously under the circumstances, also wrote in to say they were shocked and could not believe he was capable of such behaviour.
Harland lived in Phnom Penh with a girlfriend, a Khmer woman in her early 20's and her 13-year-old sister. The victims, said APLE, were his girlfriend's sister and three other girls, who sold stuff at Sisowath Quay on Phnom Phen's riverside.
But none of them were called as witnesses at the trial. Surveillance pictures showed no evidence of anything, save that he was at a swimming pool at a certain date.
Only the time, said Harland, was disputed and photographic evidence which was not time coded showed, by the light and shadows that they could not have left the pool at the time the girls agreed on their original statements, late afternoon. Harland said they all left much earlier. He knew, he said, because he started work at 2 p.m.
But if indeed sex took place after APLE's surveillance on the swimming pool day, there were no photographs, to even show where they went.
The landlady of a house the children said they went to said she had seen no young girls entering with Harland.
Some people in Phnom Penh, perhaps with something to hide, refer to APLE photographers who could be anything from moto drivers to stall holders as the 'gangstalkers'. They are short on documenting their photos and it would appear that the court accepts any pictures.
When it came to the test the whole prosecution depended on the unchallenged statements of the girls, (one said nothing happened) who, Harland claimed, actually refused to give evidence even under protected circumstances.
These are Harland's claims of course and he asks other questions such as:
*Why in their statements did they call him John, the first name on his passport, when as acquaintances they all knew him as Matt?
|Girls clearly still wet climbing aboard. Where did they go?|
Surveillance was discontinued. Harland says he went
*Why was he arrested five years after the alleged offences. He says he was initially charged with committing offences in 2005 but the charges and statements were changed when prosecutors realised he was not in the country?
* Was it fair to leave the alleged victims in the hands of APLE, who were conducting the prosecution and had been paid more then US$29,000 by the British Embassy towards legal fees?
Said Harland: "I have no history of any sort of being interested sexually in children. I have been accused of taking these children away and having sex with them, but there is absolutely no evidence of where this is supposed to have happened. The one place mentioned has already been discredited as a place where sex took place There has been nothing inappropriate in my behaviour. I have written to the Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the Queen. My friends are shocked. My trial was totally railroaded".
Currently APLE is suing a lawyer in Phnom Penh who has accused them of conspiring with police and even some parents to set foreigners up on child sex charges. It's not unusual that they are accused behind their backs of setting up cases particularly by lawyers defending child sexual abusers. But the latest accusation was made as a public statement.
Aple has undoubtedly caught some very nasty paedophiles in Cambodia. And of course the assertions here come from documents and the words of Harland and his legal team and are open to challenge.
So I put Harland allegations to APLE and CEOP. Below are Aple's replies:
|Harland's girlfriend with 13-year-old sister|
In March 2010, APLE’s investigators saw Harland again. Soon it turned out that he lived with his girlfriend (approx. 20) and her younger sister (13 years old). At this point, APLE sent all information about Matthew John Harland to the Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit.
The Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit sent all the girls who were involved with Harland in 2006 to the police station. Two of the four girls testified that Harland had sex with them in exchange of money, ranging from 50 to 100 US dollars (our lawyer has victim statements from the girls).
|Harland's motor cycle. Not registered until 2007|
The police then did a search in Harland’s premise and found 2 laptops. The British police was asked for assistance to examine his laptops. They found many indecent pictures of children (the Police still have the evidence).
Harland’s case was sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Harland was preliminary charged with purchase of child prostitution and indecent act. The date for the trial was set for October 22, 2010.
Did the victims gave evidence during the trial?
Answer: Their statements.
On February the 17th, 2011, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handled Harland’s case, Harland was fully provided a chance to talk during the trial.
On March the 10th, 2011, based on statements of the victims and other supportive evidences, Harland was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment based on Art. 34“Purchase of Child Prostitution”. The judge also ordered Harland to pay 1 million Riel (approx. 250 US dollar) civil compensation to each of his victims (two in total).
Harland appealed the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. On August the 28th, 2012, the Appeal Court handled Harland’s case. On September 28, 2012, Harland was again sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.
Also he was ordered to pay 1 million Riel (approx. 250 US dollars) civil compensation to each of the victims.
CAUTION: The author is extremely cautious when viewing statements or claims by people accused of sexual offences against children. More often than not they do not they do not consider anything wrong with what they have done. This case does no come under the umbrella of paedofilia.
For instance with British photographer Andrew Chant he tracked down Gary Glitter (Paul Francis Gadd) in Vietnam leading to his arrest.
And his report on Briton David Fletcher ‘ The Beast of the Dump’ in Phnom Penh undoubtedly led to Fletcher’s arrest too. But the author was surprised when the Cambodian court tried Fletcher in his absence and sentenced him to ten years.
CEOP were involved in both the above cases.
When dealing with this case and the claims by Harland the author has also had to take into account the following factors.
As Harland was a well known figure in Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and even knew several child protection ngos, was there suspicion among foreigners about his activities? Was there for instance a pattern? Did he have a record among foreigners of being overtly over friendly to street children? Or indeed did he have a record?
(It is difficult to forget an investigation called ‘Operation Ore’ carried out by Britain’s CEOP in which 33 people committed suicide and thousands of people were falsely accused of downloading child pornography.)
The author has also taken into account recent controversies involving non government organisations in south east asia.
In Phnom Penh for instance the Somaly Mam Foundation has been accused of ‘creating victims’ to get more funding. SISHA the South East Asia Investigations into Social and Humanitarian Activities has been embroiled in a financial scandal and allegations of bullying.
In Thailand evidence is emerging of the same children repeatedly turning up in courts as victims of child sexual abuse, when they are mean to be the subject of care orders and also in the care of an ngo.
And an Australian charity was accused of inventing a rescue of 23 children from the Akha hill tribe who, it said, were destined for brothels and sweatshops.
In short it’s a minefield out there – and one which a journalist has to tread through very carefully and not destroy the efforts of people genuinely trying to solve the international child abuse problem.
Coupled with that are the emotions stirred up in the west by several well publicised cases which have driven governments to put child sexual abuse at the top of their agendas. And international organisations and individual countries, notably Britain, are putting more and more cash into the hands of ngos in this field. So much so that there is visible competition for funding.
Again the author has no truck with that. But it does mean that law enforcement agencies and ngos are also under increasing pressure to produce results and also seek publicity for their results.
The author of course cannot vouch for what Harland claims – because inevitably serious efforts will be made to discredit those claims. Letters to Phnom Penh's Anti-Corruption Unit have been ignored.
But in all these cases the media has printed almost word for word the press releases of the relevant authorities and ngos’
All the author can do is present what evidence is available.
But there are two major unchallenged points of concern.
1.The Embassy's information that Harland was not getting justice - and 2. Evidence based solely on the statements of very young witnesses, who stood to gain a healthy reward, without any sort of cross examination, taken while under the care of the people who were prosecuting the case.
Despite the hostile climate in the UK no such case would pass muster there, something CEOP might know all too well. Harland may gather little sympathy. It's that's smoke and fire thing. But foreign police agencies may well have to be more circumspect about putting their names behind 'police invetsigations' carried out in Third World countries.
Britain has laws in place to stop convicted child sexual abuse offenders from travelling abroad but the government has been criticised frequently for not implementing such orders.
Meanwhile British Embassies around the world may well have to rethink their standard answer to questions about Britons complaining about injustice abroad.
'We cannot interfere in another country's legal system'
Jim Gamble left CEOP when it was recently taken over by the National Crime Agency. He felt that CEOP's powers would be reduced. CEOP formerly ran under the umbrella of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which has also been disbanded, and which was not a police but an independent law enforcement organisation under Britain's Home Office.