Multimedia producer Kent Truog captured yesterday’s events at BKL and in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on film. You can view his photos here.
A woman with a sarong soaked in urine hits riot police during a confrontation near Boeung Kak lake yesterday. Police blocked the road in the morning and prevented residents from marching to City Hall, where the group intended to demand the release of four representatives arrested on Monday. HENG CHIVOAN
Boeung Kak lake residents clash with riot police yesterday in Phnom Penh. heng chivoan
Four villagers from Boeung Kak lake were charged by the municipal court with insulting and obstructing public officials yesterday following their arrest during a violent protest in the capital on Monday, lawyers for the villagers said. Ham Sun Rith, a lawyer from rights group Licadho who is defending village 22 residents Tep Vanny, 31, Bo Chhorvy, 37, and Heng Mom, 55, and village 24 resident Kong Chantha, 54, all from Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, said yesterday that the court had charged his clients under articles 502 and 504 of the penal code. He added, however, that the four were released by the court on bail. “The court should drop its charges, because the cause resulted from a land dispute, but nevertheless, I was happy with the decision [to release them on bail],” he said. Article 502 of the criminal code states that insulting a public official can be punishable by one to six days in prison, while article 504 states that obstructing a public official can be punishable by six months to a year in prison. The four women were arrested and detained by municipal police on Monday after protesting with about 50 villagers outside city hall to demand that authorities hasten the process of issuing them land within an onsite resettlement area set aside by the government. Six protestors were reportedly injured during clashes with police. Yesterday, more than 100 villagers walked to city hall to demand the release of their representatives but were blocked halfway by municipal police. Protestors threw rocks and urine-soaked sarongs at police, before later gathering outside the municipal court until the four women were released. Residents from villages 1, 6, 22 and 24 were excluded from a 12.44-hectare resettlement area granted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August for 746 families facing eviction to make way for a real estate project by developer Shukaku Inc. After being released, Tep Vanny told the Post that the court had banned them from moving or resisting the authorities, and warned them that they would be detained temporarily if they did not comply. “The ban and warning is blocking our freedom of expression,” she said. Heng Mom said that soon after Hun Sen announced the resettlement plan, her house was demolished and she did not receive any compensation. “We did not curse and protest against the order of the public officials, we just said what was fact. If authorities or public officials did not do wrong, we would not criticise,” she said. A senior municipal official who declined to be named told the Post yesterday that villagers cut out of the resettlement area would not receive land titles, but would still receive a policy resolution from city hall. Last week, municipal officials told village 22 residents that they would begin the land titling process last Wednesday. In a statement released late yesterday, four rights groups including Housing Rights Task Force and Licadho commended the release of the villagers, but called on authorities to drop the charges against them and include all remaining families in the onsite relocation area.
Despite road blocks and attempts to obstruct their freedom of movement BKL residents successfully made their way to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court where they pleaded for the release of the four female leaders. Investigating Judge Chhay Virak’s afternoon decision to release the accused under court supervision was welcomed by the community and human rights observers. Photos courtesy of LICADHO.
Tuesday 29 November
Cambodia urged to drop charges against Boeung Kak Lake activists
Cambodian authorities must drop politically-motivated charges against four women involved in peaceful protests about the situation at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh, where almost 20,000 people have been forcibly evicted since 2008, Amnesty International said today.
Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom, Kong Chantha and community leader Tep Vanny — were charged with “obstructing public officials” and “insult” – crimes that carry hefty fines and prison sentences of up to one year.
Police and security officials used excessive force to break up Monday’s protest involving about 50 women outside a government building in the Cambodian capital. At least six demonstrators were injured and two reportedly attempted suicide.
Women have been at the forefront of a campaign to halt the eviction of families to make way for development around the Boeung Kak Lake area in heart of Phnom Penh. Peaceful protests take place regularly.
“Cambodian authorities must stop targeting activists who are peacefully defending their communities’ rights,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.
“The politically-motivated charges against Tep Vanny and the other women, used in an attempt to silence legitimate protest, must be dropped. Authorities must immediately halt the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors.”
The four women spent Monday night in police detention in Phnom Penh and were denied full access to lawyers and medical care. Today they were charged and released under court supervision.
“The authorities’ decision to charge the four women reflects a worrying trend in Cambodia, where the space for legitimate public debate is narrowing,” said Sam Zarifi.
“Those seeking to peacefully claim their rights and voice their concerns are finding it increasingly harder to do so. Such a trend has worrying implications for the peaceful development of the country,” said Sam Zarifi.
In 2007, the Cambodian government granted the Boeung Kak Lake area, through a land concession, to a private development company, Shukaku. Many of the 4,000 families that lived around the lake have been forcibly evicted.
Authorities announced in August that the 779 families that remained near the late would be allotted 12.44 hectares for development.
However, a number of families were excluded from this arrangement, and the homes of eight families were destroyed in September 2011. Meanwhile, the process of granting land in the onsite development area has stalled.
For Amnesty International’s recent report in forced eviction in Cambodia –
Eviction and Resistance: Five women tell their stories please see: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA23/007/2011/en
Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC)- Community Legal Education Center CLEC)-Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense (LICADHO)
Criminal Charges Against Activists Won’t Solve Boeung Kak Lake Crisis
Phnom Penh, November 29, 2011 – We, the undersigned civil society organizations, deeply regret the Phnom Penh authorities’ decision to bring criminal charges against four Boeung Kak Lake residents following their participation in a protest on Nov. 28.
We do, however, commend Investigating Judge Chhay Virak’s decision to release the accused under court supervision today.
The four female activists – Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom and Kong Chantha – appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today, and were charged with insult and obstruction of public officials, respectively, under articles 502 and 504 of the new penal code. If tried and found guilty, they face up to one year in prison and fines of up to 2 million riel.
The women were protesting the failure of Phnom Penh authorities to begin demarcating the boundary of the 12.44-hectare land concession granted to Boueng Kak residents by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Aug. 17, 2011. They were also protesting the arbitrary exclusion of more than 10 percent of the remaining families from the right to receive title to their plots, which is guaranteed by sub-decree. The homes of this group – which includes as many as 96 families – are located outside of the 12.44-hectare zone. Authorities have not offered to resettle the families into the zone, despite the availability of empty plots.
In September, the homes of eight excluded families were destroyed by municipal and company forces. Last week, one of the excluded residents, Chea Dara, committed suicide reportedly out of a sense of hopelessness.
“Arresting Boeung Kak leaders is not going to make this problem go away,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. “This lake issue is like an open wound, and the authorities are trying to stop the bleeding with a machete. Arrests are only going to make the situation worse.”
We also condemn the authorities’ violent response to the Nov. 28 protest, noting that problems severely escalated after the first wave of arrests.
The protest was less than fifteen minutes old when authorities arrested the first two activists –Tep Vanny, one of the Boeung Kak community’s most vocal and active leaders, and Bo Chorvy.
“The first arrests were clearly motivated by the authorities’ strategy to target the community’s leadership,” said Sia Phearum, Secretariat Director of HRTF. “They were not motivated by any threat to public safety.”
These arrests enraged the remaining Boeung Kak residents, who subsequently created a human roadblock on Monivong Boulevard. At this point, waves of clashes began, and two more leaders were arrested.
Three of the four arrests were carried out by district security guards, who are not legally endowed with arrest powers. These unlawful arrests occurred while military police and police officers secured the area and stood by watching.
“The authorities could put an end to this sad chapter and avoid further unrest by fully implementing the Prime Minister’s sub-decree and moving quickly to secure the land and housing rights of all remaining Boeung Kak families,” said BABC Executive Director David Pred.
The swift imposition of charges immediately following the protest provides a stark contrast to the case of Suong Sophorn, a Boeung Kak activist who was savagely beaten by a mob of anti-riot police on September 16, 2011. That assault was caught on video, and clearly shows police kicking and beating a defenseless Sophorn as he lies unconscious on the ground. Sophorn was unarmed and did not resist.
Sophorn filed a criminal complaint with the Phnom Penh prosecutor on Sept. 22, but his assailants and their commanding officers – clearly identified in the numerous videos taken that day – have not yet been charged or even summoned by the court.
We call upon the authorities to drop the charges against Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom and Kong Chantha and enter into peaceful dialogue with Boueng Kak community representatives in order address their legitimate grievances. We further call upon the authorities to include all remaining Boeung Kak families in the 12.44-hectare concession, as intended by the Prime Minister’s decree and to commence the land registration process transparently and without further delay.
Cambodian authorities formally charge four activists held after a scuffle with police.
Four women activists speak with the press after leaving the municipal court in Phnom Penh, Nov. 29, 2011.
Authorities in Cambodia on Tuesday charged four women with defamation and obstruction of public officials after briefly detaining them after of a clash with police over a controversial land development scheme in the capital. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court released four representatives of the city’s central Boeung Kak Lake community after one night in police detention where they were denied legal representation and medical care, according to one of the women. The four activists—Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom, and Kong Chantha—have all been forcefully evicted from their homes as a Chinese-Cambodian company, Shukaku Inc., fills the lake with sand in preparation for the construction of a luxury residential site. One of the activists vowed after her release to continue protesting against the local government and Shukaku to demand her rights as a property owner. “Normally, concerned citizens must speak out to release their anxiety,” she told reporters in front of the court. “We only expressed ourselves, but the court has charged us. How about the company that has pumped sand into our houses and the police who violently abused us? Didn’t they commit a crime?” The women had gathered in front of city hall with other villagers from Boeung Kak Lake on Monday to protest the loss of their land to Shukaku after a group of land title officers visited Boeung Kak Lake to take measurements over the weekend. But police broke the protest up, detaining the four. The clash left another four women injured. Nearly 20,000 people have either been evicted from their homes or are at risk of losing them since Shukaku, which is owned by a politician from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, was granted a 99-year lease in the area in 2007.
Call to drop charges
Local and international rights groups have called on authorities to drop the charges against the activists. Sam Zarifi, director of the London-based Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Program, urged the municipal government to stop targeting activists who are peacefully defending the rights of their communities. “The politically-motivated charges against Tep Vanny and the other women, used in an attempt to silence legitimate protest, must be dropped. The authorities must immediately halt the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters,” Zarifi said. “The authorities’ decision to charge the four women reflects a worrying trend in Cambodia, where the space for legitimate public debate is narrowing,” he said. Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, said the government was wrong to have granted the concession to Shukaku. “First of all, the lease is 99 years long and the government has failed to conduct evaluations to see if the development plan will affect the people,” he said. “The biggest mistakes throughout the process were that the company destroyed people’s houses and assaulted women.”
Boeung Kak lake representatives have demanded that all residents whose homes had been demolished by the developer and local authorities be entitled to land within an area earmarked by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August. According to Hun Sen’s decree, 12.44 hectares (31 acres) were to be set aside for 794 families who were facing eviction. But local authorities say scores of families lack property titles recognized by the government and have excluded them from the land. Villagers contend that implementation of the decree has lacked transparency. Cambodia’s land issue dates from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which banned private property and forced large-scale evacuations and relocations throughout the country. This was followed by mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war. Housing Cambodia’s large, young, and overwhelmingly poor population has posed a major problem ever since. An estimated 30,000 people a year in Cambodia are driven from farmland or urban areas to make way for real estate developments or mining and agricultural projects.
“They do not fear death or detention in jail.”
Four leaders of a Monday demonstration by Boeung Kak lake protesters were released pending trial Tuesday, after Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged them with insult and obstruction of public officials. The four women—Tep Vanny, 31, Bu Chorvy, 37, Heng Mom, 42, and Kong Chantha, 44—were arrested during a protest Monday that blocked traffic on Monivong Boulevard in front of City Hall. Some 300 protesters locked arms and blocked the thoroughfare, demonstrating against the city’s failure to so far implement a land agreement ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this year.
Photo by Heng Reaksmey
An identified woman, Boeung Kak lake protester, crying at the demonstration Monday.
Protesters clashed with police and threw water bottles. Some tore off their clothes and lie in the road. At least two women threatened suicide over the loss of their homes. Tep Vanny, an outspoken advocate for villagers who say they want land on a contentious development site at Boeung Kak lake, said they would not stop until they were granted the 12.44 hectares of land promised by the authorities. Some residents have said they were arbitrarily excluded from the deal with the city, which was meant to allay the anger of villagers unwilling to take a development company buyout or relocation. “The villagers have a plan to continue their demands if the Phnom Penh authorities do not give them the land,” she said. “They do not fear death or detention in jail. What they are thinking about is their lost land and that their children have no homes in which to live or freedom of living.”
Photo by Heng Reaksmey
A group of Cambodian police officers maintaining traffic and demonstrators at Monivong Boulevard in front of City Hall.
Chhin Lida, a defense lawyer for the four women, said he welcomed their release under court supervision but said he would fight against further arrest or detention. Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said authorities were now putting more pressure on the lake residents to prevent further protests. “The first arrests were clearly motivated by the authorities’ strategy to target the community’s leadership,” Sia Phearum, secretariat director for the Human Rights Task Force, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “They were not motivated by any threat to public safety.”
Boeung Kak lake residents scuffle with riot police during a protest yesterday outside City Hall in Phnom Penh. Four protesters were arrested and as many as six were injured when they were beaten and stomped on by police. Pha Lina
Boeung Kak lake resident Soung Samay is carried away from the scene of a protest after being beaten and kicked by police yesterday. Pha Lina
Four villagers from Boeung Kak lake were arrested and six were reportedly injured during clashes with municipal police yesterday at a protest at which they demanded that officials hasten the process of granting them land within an onsite relocation area set aside by the government. Village 22 residents Tep Vanny, 31, Bu Chorvy, 37, and Heng Mom, 55, from Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, were arrested yesterday morning after they gathered outside city hall with about 50 other villagers to seek an explanation as to why they had not yet been issued land titles. Village 24 resident Kong Chantha, 55, was arrested that afternoon. “I dare to die here if authorities do not provide a proper solution for our people in the Boeung Kak area,” Kong Chantha said shortly before her arrest. Protestors caused a traffic jam on Monivong Boulevard, where police beat and stomped on a number of residents. One woman from village 22 cut her left hand with a razor, while a resident of village 24 tried to swallow pills in attempts to pressure authorities into resolving the issue. The protest dispersed briefly before forming again outside the French Embassy in the afternoon.
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said yesterday that six protestors were injured by police during the demonstration and that the arrested villagers were still being detained. At about 6pm, Tep Vanny told the Post via phone from the police station that she and the other three villagers may be held overnight at the municipal police station. Municipal police chief Touch Naruth could not be reached for comment yesterday, while deputy police chief Pen Roth declined to comment. Hi Prou, deputy municipal police chief in charge of public order, also declined to comment. Residents from villages 1, 6, 22 and 24 were initially cut out of a 12.44-hectare onsite relocation area granted by Prime Minister Hun Sen to 746 families facing eviction to make way for a real-estate project being developed by Shukaku Inc, a firm run by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin. Last week, municipal officials told village 22 residents that they would begin the land titling process last Wednesday, but residents claimed that officials have not yet begun. Heng Mom’s husband Tong Heng, 67, told the Post yesterday that municipal officials said last Monday they would provide land titles to all villagers, but so far they “did not follow their promise”. Last week, villager Chea Dara reportedly committed suicide amid her despair over what she believed was her pending eviction from the lakeside. Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that it was government policy not to permit violence during peaceful demonstrations, but that he was not aware of the details of what occurred at the protest yesterday.
After a day of clashes outside the Phnom Penh Municipality during which four activists were arrested, there was heavy police presence in the Boeung Kak area and the residents freedom of movement was obstructed by the police. Photos courtesy of LICADHO.
Heidi Hautala, the Finnish Minister for International Development, yesterday spoke to Boeung Kak women during their day-long protest. In Phnom Penh to announce Finland’s accession to the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, Ms Hautala also took the opportunity to learn about land rights and other pertinent human rights issues. You can read her blogpost about the visit here (in Finnish only).