Thursday, December 27, 2012

Statement: Regrets the Unfair Judgment on Boeung Kak Lake Residents

“CHRAC Regrets the Unfair Judgment on Boeung Kak Lake Residents”
Phnom Penh, 27 December 2012

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)—a coalition of 21 NGO members—is so disappointed at the decision today by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to sentence Ms. Yorm Bopha, a land and housing rights activist and former Boeung Kak Lake resident, to three years in prison.  Her husband, Lous Sakorm, was convicted of the same crime and handed a three year suspended sentence, while her two brothers, Yorm Kamhong and Yorm Seth, were tried in abstentia, and handed three year sentences pending their arrest after a warrant was issued today. The four have each been ordered to pay 30 million Riels in compensation, a total of $15,000 for both victims.  The trial was marked by irregularities, while the integrity of the decision is seriously undermined by the lack of evidence presented at the court.  Instead, the conviction of Yorm Bopha highlights the judicial harassment faced by activists willing to oppose the authorities and powerful private companies in the pursuit of their land rights.

On 04 September 2012, Yorm Bopha, a popular Boeung Kak community representative, was accused of assaulting a suspected thief – allegations she has denied. She was detained at Prey Sar prison for more than 100 days until her trial on 26-27 December 2012, at which she was handed a 3 year sentence and a large fine, under Article 218 of the Penal Code (“intentional violence with aggravating circumstances”).

Yorm Bopha played a central role in the Boeung Kak Lake residents’ campaign to protect their homes and gain adequate compensation after the government leased their land to development firm Shukaku Inc. She was also at the forefront of the campaign for the release of 15 female former lake residents who were detained arbitrarily in May 2012 following a peaceful protest. Yorm Bopha has refused to be silenced, despite reporting on a number of occasions that she has faced intimidation and harassment by authorities, and the long sentence handed to her and the hefty fine cannot be divorced from her activism.

The Trial
The judicial process against Yorm Bopha has been flawed from the beginning, when she was arrested one month after the crime was alleged to have been committed, and then questioned without a lawyer present. During the trial, the judge failed to take into account the argument presented by the defense, instead relying on evidence that was flimsy to say the least.

Three of the witnesses called to testify against Yorm Bopha told contradictory accounts of the events. It was later apparent that two of the witnesses could not be sure who Yorm Bopha or her husband was, only that they had seen both men and women at the incident. It also emerged that one witness had gone for dinner that evening, but could not recall who with due to his state of inebriation, but could however recall that Yorm Bopha was present at the incident. With such grounds for reasonable doubt, the conviction of Yorm Bopha and prison sentence she has received calls into question the competence of the Cambodian judiciary.

CHRAC calls on the higher courts to overturn the judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in order to release her freely, in case her appeals are to be lodged. In a striking juxtaposition between the judicial treatment of rich and poor, Chhouk Bandith, the former Bavet City governor, saw charges dropped against him by Svay Rieng provincial court citing insufficient evidence this week in a case whereby he was accused of shooting 3 protesters at a strike outside a garment factory in February. This was despite numerous witness accounts and his alleged confession of the incident. The detention of Yorm Bopha, convicted on exceptionally weak evidence in a case that must be seen in light of her activist work, serves to demonstrate that justice in Cambodia is the preserve of the rich and powerful, while poorer Cambodian who stand up for their rights can expect harassment and imprisonment as a matter of course.

For more information, please contact:

·         Mr. Sok Sam Oeun      Executive Director of CDP                            Tel: 012 901 199
·         Mr. Ny Chakrya          Head of Monitoring Section, ADHOC         Tel: 011 274 959
·         Mr. Neil Loughlin        Technical Assistant, ADHOC                       Tel: 092 648 318
·         Mr. Suon Bunsak         Executive Secretary of CHRAC                    Tel: 092 344 357
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