CSO Statement: Release of 13 Boeung Kak representatives tainted by police violence

Statement issued by Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), Social Action for Change (SAC), People’s Action for Change (PAC), Cambodian Worker Center for Development (CWCD) Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) and Cambodian Food and Service Worker’s Federation (CFSWF), Cambodia’s Civil Servants Association (CICA), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF), Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Equitable Cambodia (EC),Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), and LICADHO Canada

Phnom Penh, June 27, 2012 – We, the above organizations, welcome the release today of the 13 jailed Boeung Kak (BK) representatives but strongly condemn police violence against BK residents trying to reach the appeal court and regret that the convictions against the 13 were upheld despite the government’s failure, again, to present any evidence of the alleged crimes.

Whilst the judges heard the appeal inside the court, a large unit of anti-riot intervention police were mobilized to prevent BK community residents and neighboring community villagers from reaching the court. The police officers turned violent as a group of children tried to rush through the road block. During the standoff, one woman – a sister to one of the 13 jailed representatives – was kicked by an intervention police officer in the stomach. Doctors have confirmed that she was pregnant and has lost her unborn child due to heavy bleeding. At least 4 other BK villagers and 7 children were beaten by police and had to receive medical treatments.

“Court officials must immediately carry out a full and independent investigation into this tragic incident and prosecute the officers who assaulted the residents, as well as the commanding officer who ordered the violence.” said Yeng Virak, Executive Director of CLEC.

The court upheld the sentences of two and a half years against all 13 BK women but suspended all but 1 month and 3 days, in recognition of the burden that imprisonment poses to them, in particular given that they are mothers and grandmothers. TheBK women thus remain at continued threat of re-arrest.

During the appeal none of the trial irregularities were addressed and, once again, no evidence was presented in support of the charges. On the contrary, three witnesses for the defense were prevented from entering the courtroom to testify despite attempts by the defendant’s lawyer and each of the 13 women testified in detail about their actions on the day of the alleged offenses, confirming their innocence of the charges. The one defense witness allowed to testify corroborated their testimonies. No government witnesses attended the appeal hearing.

“While the release of the 13 BK women is most welcome, upholding these sentences is a travesty of justice. Despite in-court testimony, video and photographic evidence that the women are innocent, they have been declared guilty again – with their suspended sentences hanging over their every move” said Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek, President of LICADHO.

It’s also important to realize that the BK community is now back to square one as the underlying issues remain unresolved. Many families still remain arbitrarily excluded from receiving land titles, and the 12, 44 hectares of land given to the remaining lake families has still not been demarcated. Whilst the families of the women can rejoice in being reunited with their loved ones today, the community’s fight for their land and their rights will continue.

The released women are: Nget Khun; Tep Vanny; Kong Chantha; Song Srey Leap; Tho Davy; Chan Navy; Ngoun Kimlang; Bov Sophea; Cheng Leap; Soung Samai; Phan Chunreth; Heng Mom; and Tol Srey Pov.

The thirteen were arrested on May 22, 2012, during a peaceful demonstration over a land dispute that has led to the displacement of over 3,500 families.

They were convicted roughly 48 hours later, in a show trial laden with irregularities. Lawyers for the women requested a delay in the proceedings, but were denied. The lawyers were also refused access to the case file and state evidence. They were not even permitted to call witnesses.

Two other BK residents, Ms Ly Chanary and Mr. Sao Sarouen, were arrested outside the trial. They had come to serve as witnesses. They were placed in pretrial detention until June 15, 2012, when they were released under judicial supervision. Charges against them are still pending.

The BK Lake dispute dates back to 2007, when the lake and its surroundings were leased to Shukaku, a company owned by a ruling-party Senator. Shukaku filled the lake and forced out virtually all of the residents living in the area. Minimal compensation was paid to some, but most families received nothing.

The company’s coercive intimidation campaign led to the largest displacement of Cambodians since the Khmer Rouge era.

The events surrounding the arrest of the 13 women clearly did not justify the charges. On the morning of May 22, as part of a media event, some 18 families from Village 1 in BK arrived at the sand dunes covering their homes in the lakeside village. Equipped with a few pieces of wood, one family attempted to erect poles to mark the locations of their destroyed home. Soon after, however, police arrived at the site trying to confiscate the wood and prevent the family from proceeding.

After the media event was disrupted, a group of BK residents remained in the area, and several sang songs about land rights. Shortly before noon, a small group of women was surrounded by a mixed force of police and district guards, who proceeded to violently push into the remaining group. As the community members dispersed, 13 women – some of whom were not even part of the group that had been singing – were violently arrested.

They were charged with – and later convicted of – violating articles 34 and 259 of the 2001 Land Law and article 504 of the Penal Code. Article 34 of the Land Law states that any “illegal occupant” of certain property shall be subject to article 259, which provides for imprisonment of one to five years. Penal Code article 504 describes the crime of obstruction of public officials with aggravating circumstances. It allows for six months to one year in prison.

The women were all sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, though some sentences were partially suspended.

For more information, please contact:
Eang Vuthy, EC, 012 791 700
Neup Ly, HRTF, 012 909 397
Yeng Virak, CLEC, 012 801 235
Am Sam Ath, LICADHO, 012 327 770


One response to “CSO Statement: Release of 13 Boeung Kak representatives tainted by police violence

  1. Pingback: Cambodia housing rights activists released from prison | TerraNullius·

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