Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Shane Worrell, Phnom Penh Post, May. 28 2012
Boeung Kak lake villagers protest outside Prey Sar prison yesterday morning after 13 protesters were sentenced to prison after a three-hour trial last week. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post
Thirteen Boeung Kak lake women who were sentenced to two and a half years in jail on Thursday following a lawyer-free trial that lasted just three hours will appeal their convictions, their distraught supporters said yesterday.
As the reality of the trial, which rights groups have condemned as illegal, set in, families and friends of the women gathered at the home of imprisoned representative Tep Vanny in village 22, vowing to fight for the women’s freedom.
Heng Tong, 62, the husband of jailed Heng Mom, said the women’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, would meet with the 13 women at Prey Sar prison today.
“They will urge him to file a complaint to the Appeal Court against the decision,” he said.
Tep Vanny’s husband, Ou Kong, 35, said he would write to every NGO and embassy in Cambodia pleading for more action to secure the women’s freedom.
“The judgment on my wife and other women in Boeung Kak was not legal,” he said. “Correct procedures were not followed. The judge refused to bring important witnesses to the hearing, which is a right protected under the constitution.”
The 13 women were arrested at Boeung Kak on Tuesday as they supported a family who was trying to rebuild their home on land from which they were evicted in 2010.
They were taken to court on Thurday without having been charged and tried in about three hours – without lawyers.
Two more Boeung Kak villagers, who were arrested outside the court on Thursday, were also being detained at Prey Sar yesterday, accused of masterminding last Tuesday’s demonstration.
Eng Houy, 42, whose mother, Nget Khun, 72, was one of six to have part of her sentence suspended, said she was concerned about the conditions in Prey Sar.
“I am very concerned about my mother’s health,” she said. “Our protesting will continue until we get resolution with justice and fairness,” she said.
A Boeung Kak villager who did not wish to be named said she was caring for 2-year-old twin girls, whose adoptive mother was one of the 13 women imprisoned.
The girls, whose birth parents had not been able to care for them, had spent the weekend crying and asking when their mother was coming back, the woman said.
The two girls are not alone – children who travelled to Prey Sar prison with the Boeung Kak villagers on Saturday carried banners with the words: “Please release my mother. Do not let me become an orphan.”
Their supporters also prayed at nearby Ang Metrie pagoda, where one woman shaved her head as she tried to invoke spirits to help free the women.
Human rights group Adhoc criticised over the weekend what it said was hypocrisy.
“It is particularly disturbing that the 13 Boeung Kak women received hefty prison terms for occupying the disputed land for merely three hours, when companies continue to flagrantly ignore the laws with no consequences,” it said in a statement.
“Whereas companies continue to abuse the Land Law and Sub-Decree No. 146 on Economic Land Concessions – razing people’s land before official licence is granted, neglecting to carry out required impact assessments and disregarding calls for compensation – citizens who exert their right to peaceful protest are met with violence and judicial harassment.”
Development firm Shukaku, which is headed by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, was awarded Boeung Kak lake in 2007.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, who after the trial called on the international community to take a strong stance, yesterday criticised remarks by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the US State Department, who arrived in Cambodia late last week.
Campbell said on Friday he was “thrilled” to be in Cambodia and told of his country’s “deep desire to have strong and deeper ties between our business communities in the United States and ASEAN”.
Posting on her blog yesterday, Mu Sochua questioned whether trade was being put before human rights.
“This statement by a high-ranking official of the State Department is an insult to human rights and in particular to women’s human rights,” she said.
US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh, however, said Campbell’s comments had been taken out of context.
“[Campbell] was here primarily to focus on ASEAN-driven issues. He was thrilled to be here for a senior officials meeting.”
McIntosh said the US had been closely following the 13 women’s situation and was regularly raising issues including freedom of assembly and independent judiciary.
“Boeung Kak … is another example of a need to define property ownership more clearly.
“We address human rights issues with Cambodia routinely. We are not ignoring this.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at firstname.lastname@example.org
Shane Worrell at email@example.com