The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced Hang Vibol, the former director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), to three years in prison for abusing 11 victims under his care at the Phnom Penh orphanage he founded in 1999.
In the courtroom Wednesday afternoon, Presiding Judge Kim Rathnarin announced that Mr. Vibol had been found guilty of indecent assault with aggravating circumstances, committed at the Our Home orphanage in Meanchey district.
“The court has decided to sentence Hang Vibol, 46, to three years in prison and fine him 8 million riel [about $2,000] on charges of indecent assault with aggravating circumstances under Article 248 of the criminal code,” Judge Rathnarin said.
In addition to the fine and prison sentence, Judge Rathnarin also ordered Mr. Vibol to pay five victims between 5 million and 10 million riel ($1,250 to $2,500) in compensation.
Mr. Vibol served as the first director of APLE before his departure from the organization in 2005. Since his arrest, he has repeatedly claimed that he was set up by the group’s founder, Thierry Darnaudet.
Lawyers present during his trial said that both victims and witnesses provided testimony incriminating the orphanage director.
As he was escorted out of the courtroom by judicial police, Mr. Vibol maintained his innocence, complaining that the evidence against him consisted only of testimony.
“I will appeal because this is not fair,” Mr. Vibol said. “With boys, it is difficult to perform examinations, but with the girl…there should have been an examination.”
Mr. Vibol said he also planned to file a complaint against the organization he once ran. “APLE filed a complaint about me and they are behind this,” he said.
Mr. Vibol was arrested in March following a monthslong investigation into the abuses at Our Home—conducted by APLE.
During his three-day trial last month, the former orphanage director admitted to touching the genitals of children at Our Home but denied that such contact was inappropriate.
“He was a doctor and he was like a father or mother to the children,” Mr. Vibol’s lawyer, Suy Sokhon, said after the sentence was handed down.
“It is normal for a parent to have to do some touching,” he added, referring to baths that Mr. Vibol gave to children at Our Home.
A 21-year-old former resident of Our Home, who was in the courtroom Wednesday, broke down in tears following the verdict.
“He helped give me baths. He helped put bandages on me when my arm was hurt. I question whether all of these acts are against the law,” the former resident said, adding that he had lived at Our Home from 2003 until March of last year, when authorities closed the center.
“I lost my home…. We were living like a big family,” he said, adding that he defended Mr. Vibol during the trial.
Mr. Vibol claims that Mr. Darnaudet—assisted by two senior Our Home staffers, Jean Marie Anno and Keo Pisethdara—fabricated the claims against him following a series of disputes between the two.
In 2013, Mr. Vibol filed a complaint with the ministries of interior and social affairs alleging that Mr. Darnaudet, a French national who stepped away from APLE in 2014, had himself sexually abused children in his care. Authorities dismissed the complaint and Mr. Darnaudet has maintained his innocence. Mr. Vibol has also alleged that the APLE founder became angry when Mr. Vibol rebuffed his sexual advances.
Mr. Sokhon echoed his client Wednesday, saying that a three-year sentence was too severe, and that authorities lacked the evidence to convict the former child-protection campaigner.
“If there had been an examination of shirts, skirts or other objects, or if there were camera recordings, that would have been reasonable, but there was nothing at all,” he said.
Samleang Seila, APLE’s current director, said that despite Mr. Vibol’s former role at APLE, his staff had acted impartially during the organization’s investigation.
“I think he has been accusing APLE of this thing since the beginning of the case, but I can confirm that this is not relevant, this is not true,” Mr. Seila said.
“We were the key organization involved in this investigation and he wanted to divert attention of the authorities and the public to APLE itself,” he said, adding he was displeased with the court’s three-year verdict.
“Three years—this is too lenient of [a] sentence to be accepted, considering the number of victims and the damages that have [been] caused by…this crime by Hang Vibol,” he said, adding that his organization would ask prosecutors to appeal the sentence.