The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday sentenced two housing activists to three years in prison each on charges related to incitement in demonstrations.
Supporters of Yorm Bopha and her husband, Lours Sakhorn, say they are being punished by the courts for exercising their right to assembly.
Demonstrators gathered outside the court as the hearing was conducted Thursday. Riot police armed with electric batons held protesters at bay, and at least four women fainted after they were shocked with the batons.
Both activists were charged under a new penal code for “aggravating circumstances” in the alleged assault of two men in August, during a demonstration against the forced eviction of residents at the Boeung Kak lake area in Phnom Penh.
The court also issued guilty verdicts in absentia for two other activists, Yorm Kanlonn and Yorm Seth.
Defense attorney Chan Socheat said witnesses gave unclear statements to the court, while documents appeared to be forged or altered. He said he would appeal the decision.
Rights advocates say the two activists are being used as examples to deter further demonstrations over ongoing land disputes, by a court system widely viewed as biased toward powerful interests.
“I think with this case the court is trying to stop land protests,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Speaking to reporters at the court, Yorm Bopha said the court had failed to deliver justice in the case. “This is injustice in the money-and-dollar society,” she said.