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Family of Jailed Activist Pleads for Her Release

Boeung Kak lake resident Yorm Bopha arrives for a hearing in the Appeal Court in the capital city Phnom Penh November 7, 2012
PHNOM PENH - The husband of Cambodian housing activist Yorm Bopha is calling on the courts to release her from a three-year prison sentence, saying he is unable to care for their 9-year-old son without her.

Supporters say Yorm Bopha was imprisoned on thin evidence because the courts hope to quell ongoing demonstrations over forced evictions and land grabs that have become a vexing problem for local and national authorities.

Her husband, Lours Sakhorn, 56, told VOA Khmer Friday he is in poor health, making it difficult to care for their son, Lours Lihour. “I can’t do anything to replace my wife,” he said. “For my son, living with me is not like living with his mother.”

Lours Lihour’s grades have slipped since his mother was jailed, he said. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled in December to jail Yorm Bopha, an activist from the embattled neighborhood of Boeung Kak lake, for three years.

Lours Lihour, a primary school student, told VOA Khmer Friday his rank in class has slipped from 11th to 19th.

“I have no desire to study while my mother is in jail,” he said. “Please release my mother.”

Yorm Bopha’s mother, Sabour Soth, 59, said her daughter has been wrongfully jailed because of her activism, while many witnesses have said she did not assault anyone during a demonstration in August 2012, as alleged.

“I think my daughter is a scapegoat,” she said. “I know her very well, and she has never committed an abuse of the law.”

Like many women from the neighborhood, Yorm Bopha became an accidental activist following forced evictions at Boeung Kak that began in 2008.

Thousands of families have lost their homes to a major commercial and residential development on 133 hectares of a lake and surrounding land that has now been filled in with sand.