Monday, September 19, 2016

Cambodia: Activists sentenced in years-old protest case

4 women convicted over 2011 protest calling for families evicted for development project to be properly compensated


Four prominent land rights activists were handed six-month prison terms Monday for a five-year-old protest in which they had called for families evicted for a development project in Cambodia to be properly compensated.

According to rights group Licadho, “Boeung Kak Lake representatives Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Kong Chantha and Heng Mom were found guilty of obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances” and insulting police.

The charges were laid in November 2011, days after the women blocked a road outside the capital Phnom Penh’s City Hall to highlight compensation issues following a mass eviction in their neighbourhood.

Licadho said the judge sentenced all four to six months behind bars. Of the four, only Tep Vanny, who was already in pre-trial detention for another three-year-old protest, was sent to prison.

Outside the court Monday, around two dozen protesters and supporters gathered, calling for the case to be dropped and setting up a small effigy of the courthouse and the women.

“No special enforcement order was issued so Bo Chhorvy and Kong Chantha -- as well as Heng Mom, who was tried in absentia -- were not arrested as their sentence will not be enforced until all appeals are exhausted. None of the evidence presented at the trial sufficiently proved the guilt of the four women,” Licadho said.

The women hail from the Boeung Kak area -- what was once a network of villages hugging the edge of a large, urban lake, that now abut a vast, desert-like landscape.

In 2008, a company called Shukaku Inc, owned by a ruling party senator, began filling in the lake to the horror of residents.

Several thousand families were evicted and their homes destroyed.

In response, the area turned into a flashpoint for protests that evolved beyond the development project itself and focused also on perceived impunity, corruption and discontent with the authorities and political tension in the city.

Outrage over the evictions prompted the prime minister, Hun Sen, to set aside 12.44 hectares of land on which residents were awarded small plots.

But 94 families were left out at the time, and in November 2011, the women and other protesters blocked a main road in the capital to call on local government to ensure that all families would be taken care of.

Although they were swiftly arrested and charged, the women were then released and the case lay otherwise dormant, until it was dredged up again a few weeks ago.

Its revival and the subsequent convictions come amid what analysts consider to be a wider crackdown on civil society and mounting tensions between the ruling and opposition political parties.

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

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