Court Upholds Wrongful Verdicts Against Housing Rights Defenders in Cambodia
The Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh today upheld the wrongful verdicts against ten women housing rights activists and a monk for their participation in peaceful protests. Civil Rights Defenders has been monitoring the situation in Cambodia since the 11 activists were arrested over three days back in November 2014.
Eight of the women activists received reduced sentences of ten months, while one woman activist had her sentence reduced to six months. All ten women had their fines reduced. The court upheld the conviction and sentence of Venerable Seung Hai.
“This swift trial of human rights defenders shows the sad lack of integrity of the Cambodian court system,” said Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia Programme Director, Civil Rights Defenders.
Nget Khun, Tep Vanny, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, and Phan Chhunreth, Po Chorvy, Nong Sreng, Heng Pich, Im Srey Touch, Phoung Sopheap, as well as Venerable Seung Hai, were detained, tried and convicted in two trials in the space of 72 hours last November. The Court of Appeal heard the appeals in the two cases last Friday. Phan Chhunreth, age 57, is in poor health and fainted after the decision was announced this morning.
“The judiciary has again squandered an opportunity to demonstrate it is willing and able to uphold the people’s rights and dispense justice in an independent, impartial and credible manner,” said Brittis Edman.
Surya Subedi, the outgoing UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, attended the appeal hearing and said in a statement that the Cambodian courts “continue to be used as a means to intimidate those perceived to be critical of the Government.”
Peaceful protests in Cambodia are often violently repressed and participants subjected to judicial harassment. Government officials or state security officers have de facto impunity for the use of excessive force against peaceful protests, including the one in January 2014 that resulted in deaths, injuries, and wrongful imprisonment.
In two trials on 11 and 12 November 2014, the 10 women activists and Venerable Seung Hai were sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of two million Riel each (circa 490 USD or 3600 SEK). Seven of these women were detained during a protest against the environmental fallouts from an ostensible development project of Boeung Kak lake in central Phnom Penh. Three other women and Venerable Seung Hai were then arrested while protesting against the detention of the seven women.
The long-running land dispute centered around a 99-year land concession granted to the company Shukaku, Inc. over the Boeung Kak lake, which the company turned into a landfill. This led to forced evictions since the company also were granted a concession over the surrounding areas, which housed around 4200 families. A senator from Cambodia’s ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party, owns the company.
Thousands of families have been forcibly evicted from the area while the remaining residents face intimidation and suffer from the fallouts of the lake’s commercial development. Since 2007, activists from the Boeung Kak community and their supporters have been engaging in peaceful protests and conducting public advocacy against the expropriation and forced evictions.