Local and international human rights organizations are requesting urgent intervention in Cambodia after receiving new information about the ongoing harassment against two prominent land rights defenders. Trial will begin Wednesday against Yorm Bopha from the Boeung Kak community and Ms. Tim Sakmony from Borei Keila. The women have been in prison for over 100 days, and were recently designated Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International.
The two women have both been outspoken activists peacefully struggling against the forced eviction of their communities. According to Free the 15, an organization working to free the imprisoned land activists, “all roads to the court have already been blocked by the police, and City Mall is closed.”
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) are calling for the immediate end to the judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of these two women.
The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) says there has been ongoing judicial harassment of the women and that on December 26th 2012 at 2 pm, Phnom Penh Municipal Court will open the trial against them for “assaulting a suspected thief” and making a “false declaration” to obtain accommodation for her disabled son. They face between six months and five years in jail and a fine between 250 to 2,500 US dollars if found guilty.
Both women were arrested in early September 2012 and have been held in pre-trial detention ever since for over 100 days.
The families from the Boeung Kak Lake (BKL) community have been battling forced evictions since 2007, when the government leased their land to a company, Shukaku Inc., for development.
In May 2012, after 15 members of the BKL community were violently and arbitrarily arrested, 29-year-old mother Yorm Bopha was at the forefront of the campaign for their release. She maintained a high profile presence at every demonstration, became a media spokesperson for the campaign, and did not shy away from publicly criticizing government officials. She captured the attention of the authorities and was verbally threatened, harassed and intimidated. According to LICADHO, she cannot remember how many times she has been beaten during protests but she clearly remembers being shocked twice by electric stun batons while protesting peacefully.
Tim Sakmony is one of the representatives of 106 families now living in squalor next to the demolished site of the Borei Keila community in central Phnom Penh. In early September 2012, the 64-year-old was called to see tycoon Suy Sophan. Suy Sophan is the owner of Phanimex, the company responsible for forcibly evicting Tim Sakmony’s family from their home in Borei Keila and destroying their belongings. Suy Sophan had an offer for Tim Sakmony’s son: $1,000 in compensation and a small house at Toul Sambo relocation site, 15 miles from Phnom Penh. He refused the offer. A few days later Tim Sakmony was arrested.
“The Cambodian authorities are trying to silence the voices of two activists who have been courageously campaigning for their communities’ basic human rights,” said Janice Beanland, Amnesty International’s Campaigner on Cambodia. “We consider both women to be prisoners of conscience, and they should be released immediately and unconditionally,” she added.
The Observatory fears that the authorities have leveled baseless charges against these women because of their peaceful struggle for land and housing rights. Therefore, it reiterates its demand on the Cambodian authorities for their immediate and unconditional release and the lift of pending charges, as their detention and judicial harassment seem to merely aim at obstructing their human rights activities and appear to be a result of them exercising their right to freedoms of expression and association.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on December 9, 1998 which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” as well as that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The Observatory reminds the Cambodian authorities that it also provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”
Cambodia ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as well as other international human rights instruments and the organizations want the government to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international law.