Naly Pilorge, director of human rights group Licadho, has received a court summons accusing her of illegal confinement of a 7-year-old girl, who has been in Licadho’s custody since Feb 15.
Licadho monitors removed the girl from her Tuol Kok home, assisted by local police and NGO staff, after receiving an NGO report that the girl was being abused by her adoptive mother, according to Tuol Kok police Deputy Director Bun Sok Sarayuth.
The next day the child was hospitalized and treated for multiple injuries, including a cut on her head that required three stitches, a black eye, marks of whippings and beatings, and bruises on her left knee and hand, according to Licadho records.
On April 2, Licadho was granted temporary custody of the girl in Phnom Penh Municipal Court. In the period before the court decision, Licadho refused repeated requests from the girl’s adoptive parents to see the child. Naly Pilorge said the child begged not to meet them.
According to Khiev Sepphan, the lawyer for the adoptive parents, Licadho initially agreed on March 19 to let the couple meet their daughter after he showed Licadho a letter with the municipal court prosecutor’s signature on it requesting the meeting take place. The next morning Licadho canceled the meeting, he said.
“Legal action was the only option left for my clients after that,” said Khiev Sepphan. He filed a complaint charging Licadho with illegal confinement on March 21.
Naly Pilorge says Licadho never responded to the March 19 letter, after receiving legal advice that a request from the prosecutor was not a court order.
She said accusations of illegal confinement were unfounded since Licadho took the child at the recommendation of police, and brought the child to municipal court the next day to report the case.
“We interviewed the girl and filed a full report to the prosecutor and police on February 26 accusing the adoptive mother of battery with injury,” Naly Pilorge said.
On March 5, Licadho filed an application for temporary custody of the girl with the Ministry of Social Affairs. On April 2, the ministry acknowledged Licadho’s custody of the child, and the municipal court granted Licadho temporary custody.
“I don’t understand how the same court that granted us custody can be trying me for illegal confinement,” Naly Pilorge said.
Investigative judge Kong Seth says the complaint is based on the period from Feb 15 to April 2. He said Licadho assumed custody without written acknowledgment from the courts, and that the child was taken from her home without a court order. “The permission of the police to take the child is not enough,” he said.
Bun Sok Sakavuth said waiting for the courts to process a police warrant can take up to a month, and insisted that if there is evidence that reports of child abuse are true, the police have jurisdiction to take away the victim.
The natural mother of the child is dead, and her father says he is too poor to care for her, according to Naly Pilorge, who said Licadho had been in touch with the father.
Meanwhile, the case of battery with injury against the adoptive mother has yet to be decided, according to Kong Seth.
When the adoptive father was asked Wednesday whether he thought the girl wanted to return to their home, he said he didn’t know. “She’s been with Licadho for so long, they might have brainwashed her,” he said. “But Licadho has made a mistake. Our child has been abducted.”
Khiev Sepphan said he believes Licadho is a good organization.
“I don’t want to create a conflict, but Licadho has pushed us against the wall,” he said. “In Cambodia, it’s traditional to physically punish your children. Licadho should be disseminating information [on abuse] instead of taking children away.”