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Aussie prison death sparks concern

Bart Lauwaert
Bart Lauwaert

Prison officials found Bart Lauwaert "dead on the floor" in his cell May 2. Lauwaert's death has renewed calls for the transfer out of Cambodia of New Zealander Graham Cleghorn, who was convicted of raping several of his maids in 2004.

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n Australian man serving a 20-year sentence for child sex offenses was found dead earlier this month in his Siem Reap jail cell, sparking further controversy over the imprisonment of another foreigner who supporters say risks dying in Cambodian custody.

Bart “Lucky” Lauwaert, a former English teacher, died May 3 of an apparent stroke, police say.

"He didn't commit suicide. We just found him dead on the floor," prosecutor Bou Bun Ham told AFP at the time.

Lauwaert, 41, had been in prison since 2003, when he was convicted of raping his nine young maids amid a spate of sex crime arrests following investigations by the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), a local advocacy group.

Lauwaert’s death has renewed calls for the transfer out of Cambodia of New Zealander Graham Cleghorn, who was convicted of raping several of his maids in 2004 following another controversial CWCC probe.

Both Lauwaert and Cleghorn claimed they had been set up by the CWCC, saying the organization had promised the plaintiffs money for their testimony – a charge the CWCC has repeatedly denied.

But at the time of Cleghorn’s arrest, several of his Cambodian neighbours had also petitioned Cambodia’s king, saying that the CWCC has attempted to coerce and bribe them into making false allegations against foreigner men.

Calling the Cambodian prison system a “hellhole,” Cleghorn’s supporters in New Zealand released a statement shortly after Lauwaert’s death dismissing his trial and demanding that he serve his sentence at home.

“There is an urgent need to return Graham Cleghorn home to New Zealand,” they said.

“A Cambodian jail is a life-threatening experience. It has proved to be fatal for a 41 year old Australian. Graham is aged over 60. His health has deteriorated significantly since he was first arrested in October 2003,” the added.

Cleghorn’s case has remained headline news in New Zealand since his trial, and concerns over the proceedings were so acute that the New Zealand government sent an ambassador from Thailand on a special diplomatic mission to help get Cleghorn a second appeal.

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