PHNOM PENH - Demonstrators against the Boeung Kak lake development gathered in front of the Phnom Penh court on Monday, demanding charges dropped against a woman and her husband who are activists against forced evictions.
Demonstrators say they want charges dropped against Yorm Bopha, who was sentenced to three years in prison last week, and her husband, Lours Sakhorn, who was given a suspended sentence, as they cursed court officials, saying the courts are trying to pressure them to stop protesting forced evictions and the destruction of their homes in a longstanding dispute.
Yorm Bopha, a leading activist for the Boeung Kak community, where some 4,000 families have been evicted to make way for a major residential and commercial property development, has been charged with “intentional violence,” charges that Amnesty International described as “fabricated” and lacking credible evidence.
Protesters on Monday cursed court officials: “Please all of you, may you die by car accident, plane crash or a sinking boat.”
Tep Vanny, an outspoken activist for the Boeung Kak community who was briefly jailed and released by the courts earlier this year, said the authorities are trying to prevent community leaders from holding demonstrations, which have occurred repeatedly since 2008, often ending in clashes with police. “They are putting pressure on us not to hold protests to demand our homes and land,” she said.
The court delivered its decision last week, just after the Court of Appeals ruled to re-jail two men, Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, who are widely considered innocent in the killing of a labor activist in 2004. It also follows a decision by the Svay Rieng court to drop charges against a powerful former governor who was accused of firing into a crowd of demonstrators in February. And Mam Sonando, the owner of Beehive Radio, which carries programming for the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, among others, remains in jail serving a 20-year sentence for charges his supporters say were exaggerated after he criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Contrary to upholding the rule of law, the Cambodian courts have been piling one injustice on top of another and ensuring that impunity rules,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher. “Urgent action by Cambodia’s government is needed to end this mockery of justice.”