Citipointe Cambodia lawsuit

 

The Cambodia Daily reports…

“A local representative for the Brisbane-based Citipointe Church on Monday confirmed that it was behind a lawsuit against an Australian filmmaker for allegedly hindering its efforts to help prostitutes or those at risk of falling into prostitution.

James Ricketson, 64, was served with a summons on Friday informing him that he had been charged with hindering an unnamed organization’s work under Cambodia’s anti-human trafficking law and calling him to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning on March 7.

Chan Sophea, the court clerk to Investigating Judge Pu Povsun, declined to identify the plaintiff Monday. Both she and the judge said they could not remember the identity of the plaintiff in the case against Mr. Ricketson.

Bun Saora, however, a staff member with Citipointe in Cambodia, where the church operates a residence for girls considered at risk, confirmed that her organization was behind the suit.

“I know that Citipointe is the plaintiff in this case at the court against James Ricketson,” Ms. Saora said.

Mr. Saora referred additional questions to Citipointe Acting Country Director Lacey Garratt, who could not be reached. Church officials in Brisbane have not replied to request for comment since Sunday.

The feud between Citipointe and Mr. Ricketson dates back to 2009, when the filmmaker began efforts to help a Cambodian couple retrieve their two daughters who were placed in the church’s care during a period of dire poverty.

Mr. Ricketson says he has been documenting the mother’s life since she was a poor, homeless girl in the early 1990s for a pending documentary and accuses the church of keeping her daughters illegally.

Chap Chanti, the mother of the two girls aged 11 and 12, confirmed that she has been trying to get her daughters back from the church for the past five years to no avail. Ms. Chanti also said the church has prevented her from visiting her children.

“They refuse to send them back home and I am their mother. Why don’t they allow me to take them back?” she asked Monday.

Ms. Chanti said Mr. Ricketson has been helping to financially support her family since she was a young girl and rebuked Citipointe for suing him for helping her to retrieve her daughters.

Her husband, Bun Chork, said they have approached both the church and anti-human trafficking police at the Ministry of Interior to try and get their two daughters returned, also to no avail. Mr. Chork said they finally turned to a lawyer to help them file a complaint against Citipointe a few months ago. He said the family had also got help from local rights group Licadho.

Naly Pilorge, the director, said her NGO had given the family some basic legal advice but did not help them file the court complaint. Ms. Pilorge said the financial conditions that might have given the church some pause about returning the children had since improved, “so the mother has some rights, too.”

Though the church has declined to comment on the new charge against Mr. Ricketson, it has defended its practices in the case of the two children.

In an email to a reporter in May, Citipointe Executive Pastor Brian Mulheran said the church was adhering to its memorandum of understanding MoU with the government and all relevant government directives.

“We are unable to divulge specific sensitive details relating to any specific girls in our care,” Mr. Mulheran said at the time. “However, we can state that all the girls within our care are legally in our care on behalf of the Cambodian Government under the legal authorization through the MOU and the related policies and prakas. We do not hold any girls in our care who are not legally permitted to be held in our care,” he said.

Mr. Mulheran added at the time that it was the church’s “greatest desire” to return the girls to their parents but was ordered by anti-human trafficking police not to do so because authorities had already started investigating Mr. Ricketson for alleged “hindering of the reintegration process in this specific case.”

Mr. Mulheran did not explain exactly how Mr. Ricketson was hindering the girls’ reintegration.

Lao Lim, head of juvenile protection at the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, declined to comment on the case because it was under court investigation.

In a letter addressed to Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Alison Burrows, and dated Monday, Mr. Ricketson says he could “easily” prove his innocence of the charge of obstruction by furnishing the court with the more than 150 correspondences he has had with Citipointe over the past five years.

He has also sent the court a letter to say he would not attend his scheduled questioning unless the court explained the accusations against him and revealed who was suing him.”

From http://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/australian-church-reveals-it-is-behind-lawsuit-against-filmmaker-53433/

 

James Ricketson blogs…

“It has occurred to someone that the ‘prostitution’ and ‘pornography’ charges against me are not going to stick so now I am being charged with ‘hindering’. To be specific, ‘hindering’ Citipointe church in its efforts to ‘help prostitutes’!

 Two letters here – the first to Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia and the second to Citipointe’s Pastor Brian Mulheran – who last year issued a not-so-thinly-veiled threat that have me ‘forcibly removed.’!

 

 
Ms Alison Burrow
Ambassador to Cambodia
Australian Embassy
16B, National Assembly Street
Sangkat Tonle Bassac
Lhan Chamkamon,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia                                                                                 
 
3rd Feb 2014
 
Dear Ambassador
 
In the event that I am arrested later this week, I am placing the following on record:
 
On 28th Feb a policeman arrived at my hotel to present me with a document prepared by the Phnom Penh court. He asked me to sign it with my thumb print. Given that I do not read Khmer I declined. When I had the document translated I found that it made little sense to me and, again, I declined to place my thumb print on it.
 
The following text (English translation) suggested that I was being accused of  being, in some way, involved in ‘prostitution’:
 
…accused Mr. Jame Ricketson, male, aged 64, Australian, 
of prostitution (the act frustrating the protection, assistance, or correction by the organization) committed in Phnom Penh in 2010 according to article 25 and 26 of the law on suppression against human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 
order Mr. Jame Ricketson, male, aged 64…to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal court at questioning room “M” 3rd floor on 07 March 2014 Time at 2:30 PM 
In order to question the case of prostitution (the act frustrating the protection, assistance, or correction by the organization). 
The above person shall bring all documents concerning with the case, if any. 
In case the above name fails to appear on the schedule, we will issue the arrest warrant
 
A few days later a journalist spoke with the court and was informed that no, I was not being accused of being a prostitute,  or involved in prostitution, but with posting pornography on my blog. I wrote the attached letter to Pastor Leigh Ramsey of the Brisbane-based Citipointe church seeking evidence from her that I had posted pornography on my blog.
 
By this morning, 3rd March, the accusation had changed to my ‘hindering’ an unnamed organization in its attempts to help prostitutes.
 
It is clearly Citipointe church that has brought one of the three above-mentioned charges against me or, perhaps, all three. I don’t know and, despite my asking, in a letter, the court has not informed me. I have attached a copy, in Khmer, of the letter I wrote to the court – in both Khmer and English.
 
If I were to attend an interview with the police and they refused to tell me who had brought the charges against me, the exercise of being ‘interviewed’ would be a futile one. In the absence of the name of my accuser, how could the evidence that my accuser has presented to the police of my ‘hindering’ be presented to me to respond to? In the absence of evidence, what would there be to discuss?
 
If  the interview was to be conducted in the absence of evidence and without me being officially told that the accusations came from Citipointe, I would walk out. The police could then interpret this as my ‘hindering’ their investigation!
 
But let’s just say I was prepared to sit through an ‘evidence free’ interview, without knowing, officially, who has laid the charges? Given that I do not know if I am being charged with one or all three of the above charges, how can I possibly know what documents to bring along to prove my innocence?
 
In a proper court of law it is up to a prosecutor to present evidence of the guilt of the accused. It is not up to the accused to provide proof of his or her innocence? Cambodia seems to be an exception to this basic legal principle!
 
And if I turn up for this ‘interview’ without documents, will this also be viewed as evidence that I am ‘hindering’ the investigation?
 
In the event that I am being charged with ‘hindering’ (presuming that there is such a crime!) I could easily prove my innocence  by providing copies of all my correspondence with Citipointe this past five years – during which time I have been acting as an advocate for the parents of two girls illegally removed from their family by the church in 2008. These amount more than 150. Should I present all 150 of them to the police in English or in Khmer? To have around 150 letters translated into Khmer would be beyond my financial capacity to accomplish. And if it turns out that it is, after all, the posting of pornography I am being accused of, the expense of having the documents translated will have been wasted.
 
If, indeed, it is ‘hindering’ I am being accused of and not being a prostitute or posting porn, the question then arises:
 
How did Geoff Armstrong, Executive Director of the Global Development Group, know on 24th Feb, two days before the document was prepared by the court, on 26th Feb, that I was to be charged with ‘hindering’?
 
In the absence of any clarity about who has brought these non-specific charges against me and what the nature of the charges is, I will not attend an interview with the police. If this results in my arrest, so be it. This is far preferable to attending an ‘interview’ under the circumstances outlined above. If nothing else my arrest for ‘hindering’ an unnamed NGO  will highlight how laughably incompetent the Cambodian judiciary is and raise some questions in the media about both Citipointe and the Global Develop Group’s funding of the church. Perhaps, with me in jail, it will occur to those who should have been asking Citipointe questions this past five years, to start asking questions. The first of which should be:
 
On what legal basis did the church remove Rosa and Chita from their family in 2008? To be more specific, on 11th August 2008, when Rebecca Brewer told Rosa and Chita’s parents that their daughters would stay with the church’s ‘SHE Rescue Home’ until they were 18, on what legal basis did it do so?
 
This is a question that you, as Australia’s Ambassador, could also ask of Citipointe – an Australian church that runs the ‘SHE Rescue Home’.
 
best wishes
 
James Ricketson
 
———————

Pastor Brian Mulheran

322 Wecker Road
Carindale
QLD 4152                                                                                          
 
4th March 2014
 
Dear Pastor Mulheran
 
I am writing in relation to an article that appears in this morning’s ‘Cambodia Daily’, dated 4th March 2014. I will quote from it:
 
“In an email to a reporter in May, Citiponte Executive Pastor said the church was adhering to its memorandum of understanding with the government and all relevant government directives.”
 
Do you, Pastor Mulheran, believe that the parents of girls removed in accordance with such a memorandum of understanding have a right to be given a copy of it so that (a) they can know why their daughters were removed, (b) what their rights as parents are and (c) what they must do to get their daughters back?
 
Chanti, Chhork and I have been asking Citipointe church for a copy of this memorandum of understanding for five years now; for copies of any and all agreements and/or contracts Citipointe church has entered into with Cambodian authorities that give your church the rights it has exercised. What possible reason can you have for withholding these from Chanti and Chhork?
 
Please supply a copy of these documents, today, to Chanti and Chhork (with me in Phnom Penh) and all of those to whom I am copying this letter. If you do not, I trust that members of the media will ask you why you refuse to allow Chanti and Chhork to have copies of them. They might also ask why it is that in the past five years your church has not given $1 to help this family become self-sufficient.
 
My second question for you today, Pastor Mulheran, is this:
 
“Is Geoff Armstrong a member or parishioner of Citipointe church?”
 
My third question:
 
“Did you or Pastor Leigh Ramsey inform Geoff Armstrong on or before 24th Feb 2014 that I was to be charged with ‘hindering’ Citipointe in its efforts to ‘help prostitutes’? If so, how did Citipointe come to be in possession of the contents of the court document two days before it was presented to me stamped with the date 26th Feb?”
 
This question is particularly pertinent this week in light of my impending arrest. On 21st Feb 2013, in a letter to me, you issued a scarcely veiled threat to have me ‘forcibly removed’ . You wrote:
 
“Using the law is the last thing that we want to see happen, because for you to be convicted of a crime and serve a sentence may mean that you will never have the opportunity to re-enter Cambodia again.”
 
It is statements such as this that give mafias of all different kinds their deserved reputation for intimidation. I will leave it to others to interpret your comments of 21st Feb.
 
If Citipointe has decided to ‘arrange’ to have me arrested and convicted and banned from coming to Cambodia, surely you could have thought of a better crime than ‘hindering’! Even in Cambodia I think it would be difficult for a judge to find me guilty of ‘hindering’.
 
If you have ‘arranged’ to have the charge of ‘hindering’ brought against me you can also arrange for the charge to be dropped because I can assure you I will not be attending any meeting with the police later this week under the circumstances that prevail at present. If Judge Pu Povsun wishes to issue an warrant for my arrest, so be it.
 
Whilst a Brisbane based church stealing the children of materially poor Cambodians may not be ‘news’ (they are, after all poor, dark skinned and Asian!) the arrest of a white Anglo Saxon Australian on charges of ‘hindering’ will be news. I will quite happily be arrested if this leads to the media and the relevant regulatory authorities in Australia asking Citipointe to justify its removal of Rosa and Chita in 2008 and its continued retention of them in March 2014.
 
That Citipointe’s illegal removal of Rosa and Chita should happen with the tacit approval of the Global Development Group, disbursing $25 million a year in tax-deductible Australian aid, will certainly raise serious questions in the minds of donors when the circumstances surrounding my arrest lead them to read my Global Development Group blog:
 
 
And parishioners of Citipointe may have cause to think twice about donating to the church when they realize that, through the ‘SHE Rescue Home’, their donations and sponsorship monies are being used to break up families and indoctrinate children into the Christian faith. They will be able to find out how this has come about by visiting:
 
 
best wishes
 

James Ricketson”

 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in April 2013…

“Yem Chanthy was begging on Phnom Penh’s riverfront in 2008 when an Australian woman offered to help her.

“I was very happy,” she remembers. She was struggling to feed her daughters Rosa and Chita.

Chanthy can’t read or write so days later she put her thumbprint on paper giving permission for her children to have “safe shelter” in a home run by the Australian evangelical church Citipointe.

She believed the children, then five and six, would be away only until she could care for them properly.

“They told me when I stopped begging and had money I would get my children back,” says Chanthy, who was 23 at the time.

Over the next few months, she scraped together enough money to set up a small stall selling drinks and cigarettes by the river. Her husband, Both Chhork, got a job driving a tourist boat.

“I was earning enough for my daughters to come home,” she says.

But almost five years later, despite Chanthy’s repeated pleas, Rosa, now 11 and Chita, 10, are still living in Citipointe’s She Rescue Home in Phnom Penh, a registered centre for exploited and at-risk children.

“I miss my children so much. We have to be together … we can be happy,” Chanthy says while cradling one of her four other children in her family’s one-room house in a poor Phnom Penh suburb.

Citipointe executive pastor Brian Mulheran says his church supported a raft of international studies showing children should live in their own communities and be sent to institutions such as orphanages only in extreme cases.

But he says it is up to Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation to decide when it was safe for the children’s reintegration with their family.

“We are not an orphanage, we are classified as a support of care shelter by the [ministry] who are the legal custodians of the children,” he says.

Chanthy says when she had been to the church, she was told her daughters would be returned after police approval.

“When I went to the police they wanted money,” she says.

Her pleas have been backed by Sydney filmmaker James Ricketson, 64, a prodigious letter writer, who first met Chanthy 18 years ago when he was making a documentary in Phnom Penh.

She was begging near a market and he rented a room for her.

Over the years since, he has filmed various stages of her tough life, which he has put together into a documentary called Chanthy’s World.

Ricketson says he had no doubt Rosa and Chita should be living with their mother.

“It’s has been heartbreaking for Chanthy and Chhork,” he says after a visit to the family.

“If non-government-organisations have a role in Cambodia, it should be to help families stay together rather than removing children.”

Chanthy gets to see Rosa and Chita for a few hours a couple of times a month during irregular visits where a staff member of She Rescue Home is present, often in a public area.”

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