By Khuon Narim and Alex Willemyns, The Cambodia Daily, 29 November 2013
In June last year, Bov Srey Sras lost her unborn baby after being kicked in the stomach by a police officer at a public protest.
The incident, captured on camera, came as she stood outside the Court of Appeal calling for the release of her sister, who had been imprisoned after a three-hour trial.
Following her miscarriage, Srey Sras tried to sue the unknown police officer responsible for kicking her along with his superiors – a move that prompted a response from deputy Phnom Penh police chief Phoung Malay that many considered repugnant.
“Is the victim old or young, and does she sue me to return her kid?” Malay said to a Postreporter at the time. “I want to tell her that if she wants to get back her kid, I am also young.”
Authorities have taken no action over the violence or Malay’s comments.
As a coalition of NGOs, unions and protesters yesterday called on government forces to stop using violence against women, Srey Sras remained without compensation – or even a simple apology.
Following the fatal shooting of a 49-year-old female bystander during a police crackdown on protesting SL Garment workers in the capital’s Meanchey district on November 12, Srey Sras is not convinced that an apology will come.
“The authorities and police are continuing to make violence against women … and they’re now shooting at people.”
In the aftermath of Srey Sras’s miscarriage, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said disciplinary measures would be taken against Malay, but only if it was proved he had made the comments.
Such action is unlikely to be made, as Phnom Penh police chief Chhuon Sovann recently told the Post that Malay had been made a spokesman for the municipal police, while retaining his title of deputy chief.
Malay could not be reached yesterday, while Sovann was unavailable to talk and Chantharith hung up on a reporter after saying he was too busy to comment.
In light of violent incidents against female demonstrators – and the authorities’ unwillingness to appropriately respond to them – the coalition’s statement yesterday called on government forces to stop using violence on women who take to the streets to defend their rights.
“As the international community celebrates the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence from November 25 to December 10, we … call on the government to end violence against women perpetrated by its agents,” a statement reads.
The statement was issued by groups including Licadho, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) and the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities.
The coalition also called on authorities to launch independent investigations into all violent incidents against female protesters.
Incidents referenced included the SL Garment strike shooting, the electric shock and slingshot attack on women protesting at Wat Phnom on September 22, and the shooting of three garment workers in Svay Rieng province last year.
Then-Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith, who was responsible for the Svay Rieng incident, injured three workers when he opened fire on a crowd of strikers. He has since been sentenced to prison but remains at large.
“Very few cases of violence against women by authorities have been investigated, and even fewer have resulted in appropriate punishment,” said Tephalline Ou, vice president of the Cambodian Food and Service Worker Federation (CFSWF), in the statement. “As long as this continues, violence against women will remain commonplace in Cambodia.”
The coalition called on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as well as police to take the lead in bringing about change.
When contacted yesterday, Sy Define, secretary of state at the ministry, said she was too busy to comment as she was getting ready for a wedding. Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi could not be reached.
Recent reports have highlighted the high incidence of violence against women in Cambodia.
According to a UN report released in September, one in five Cambodian men has committed rape, but more than 44 per cent of them have never faced the legal consequences.
Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, said in the coalition’s statement that the connection between violence in the public sphere and the private sphere could not be ignored.
“It is not surprising that Cambodia has such high levels of violence against women, when the authorities themselves use violence with impunity,” she said.
Today, the coalition will march from Wat Phnom in the capital to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the headquarters of the National Police.
Srey Sras, meanwhile, will continue pushing for action to be taken over her miscarriage.
“I’m still suffering and feel sorry that [Phnom Penh Municipal] Court has not processed my complaint,” she said. “I’ll keep waiting for police to say sorry.”
Shelving any thoughts that 14 months in prison had deterred her from protesting, Yorm Bopha rushed to the capital’s Borei Keila community yesterday morning to try to stop authorities from forcing evictees from an abandoned building.
Bopha was one of about 10 Boeung Kak activists called on to help after military police and security guards tried to remove a number of families from a building they once lived in, resulting in a disabled man being dragged out, villagers said.
“When we had heard, we went straight there,” said Bopha, who was released on bail from prison on Friday. “We told police to stop ejecting them from the building and offer them a solution first.
“There were many of us there, so police allowed them to stay inside temporarily.”
Borei Keila evictee Tim Sakmony, 65, said a group of military police and security guards dragged her son, Uon Kang Pinith, a disabled 47-year-old recyclables collector, out of the empty building after he had joined a number of families seeking shelter inside.
“His recyclables were getting stolen downstairs, so he tried to take them up there. But they dragged and pushed him out of the building.”
The officers then left Borei Keila, in the capital’s Prampi Makara district, threatening to return later to remove the other evictees, Sakmony said. As of last night, the families were still staying on the first floor.
It’s been almost two years since hundreds of residents were violently evicted from their homes at the site.
Developer Phan Imex had agreed to build 10 high-rise buildings to house more than 1,700 families in exchange for the land on which their houses lay. However, the company built only eight of the 10 high-rises and relocated those who missed out to the squalor of relocation sites far from the capital.
Those who refused relocation have lived in tents behind the eight buildings since.
After heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, the ground on which the evictees’ tents are pitched was a mixture of mud and rubbish yesterday. The site, where everyone from small children to the elderly eat, sleep and wash in, stunk of human waste.
“Living here is getting worse because of the disgusting smell,” Sakmony said. “We are busy protesting, so we don’t have enough time to make money to buy food.”
Following her release from PJ prison on Friday evening, Bopha pledged to “struggle until she died” to keep protesting for the rights of communities such as Boeung Kak and Borei Keila.
“Even though . . . I face being arrested again, I will keep joining peaceful demonstrations to defend our rights.”
Bopha – who also joined a protest at a pagoda in Russey Keo district yesterday – said that before releasing her, authorities had warned her not to protest with fellow Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny.
“I will not stop. I need to find justice for myself and other communities,” she said.
On Friday, the Supreme Court sent her case back to the Appeal Court for a retrial.
“Even though the Supreme Court is releasing me, they still consider me guilty,” she said after the hearing. “I’m scared they will arrest me again – just like they did with Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun,” she added, referring to the two men wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of union leader Chea Vichea.
The activist was arrested in September last year, accused of ordering her brothers to beat two motodops with an axe and screwdriver at Boeung Kak.
She was sentenced to three years in prison, a term reduced to two years on appeal in June.
Bopha’s husband, Lous Sakhorn, 57, was convicted on the same charge, but his sentence was suspended.
Rights groups have called allegations against both of them baseless and aimed at silencing their community.
The Supreme Court will hear the case of Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha later this month, a court official said yesterday.Chheang Vantha, the clerk handling the 30-year-old mother’s case, said the court will hear Bopha’s final appeal on November 22.
“The Supreme Court has set this date. It is the duty of the prosecutor to notify her prison about this,” he said.
Boeung Kak representative Tep Vanny, who was among a group of Bopha’s supporters who gathered outside the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh yesterday to inquire about the case, said she had been informed of the date of the hearing.
“I believe the Supreme Court will provide full justice for her,” Vanny said. “She needs to be released and reunited with her family because she has not committed any wrongdoing like what has been alleged.”
Bopha was arrested in September last year on what rights groups say were baseless charges designed to silence her and her community’s land-rights activism.
She was locked in pre-trial detention at Prey Sar prison.
In December, Bopha was convicted on a charge of intentional violence after the court ruled she had ordered a screwdriver and axe attack on two motodops at Boeung Kak.
She was sentenced to three years in prison, a sentence that was effectively reduced to two years in June.
Rights groups and her supporters have constantly pointed to what they say was a lack of evidence in Bopha’s trial and the fact the alleged victims were drunk at the time of the incident.
During an appeal hearing in June, a judge suggested the testimony of Bopha’s two alleged victims was contradictory to original accounts used to charge her.
Bopha became well-known to authorities last year when she regularly protested in support of 13 women from Boeung Kak who were arrested and sent to Prey Sar after a three-hour trial. They were later released.
A Post reporter saw police punch and use batons to quell protesters after a group of about 250 people, including many from the Borei Keila community in Prampi Makara district, marched to City Hall and blocked Monivong Boulevard.
Hem Srey, 34, from Borei Keila, said villagers were blocked along the way, and when the situation became heated, she was struck in the temple and chest before passing out.
“I fell unconscious on the street,” she said. “If we had a resolution, we would not be blocking the street like this.”
Villagers said police had followed them from Prampi Makara district and struck them as children watched on.
But Yin San, the district’s police chief, said he had been in a meeting and was not aware of the incident. When told about the alleged violence, he hung up his phone.
Police officers at the scene refused to comment, while City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said he had received no report from police about the incident.
The protesters were continuing to call for Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong to honour the promise he made in May to resolve the city’s major – and long-running – land disputes, which also include Boeung Kak.
Borei Keila village representative Pich Limkhoun called for the governor to give villagers a solution or prepare himself for Borei Keila evictees – who have been living in tents since their houses were demolished by development firm Phan Imex last year – to set up camp outside City Hall.