Women from the Boeung Kak community, who were each sentenced yesterday to as long as two and a half years in prison, scream to friends and relatives from inside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post
Thirteen women protesters from Boeung Kak lake were yesterday sentenced to two and a half years in prison after a three-hour trial that was widely condemned as illegal – and which prompted SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua to urge the international community to suspend aid to Cambodia. The women, who were arrested as a family tried to rebuild its home during a demonstration at Boeung Kak on Tuesday, stood trial at 2pm – without a lawyer – after court prosecutors spent the morning interviewing them.
The women spent two nights at Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters and had not been charged until yesterday, when the court tried them for cursing public authority and encroaching upon the land of a public figure – Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, the owner of Shukaku. Little more than three hours after their trial began, the women were being transported to overcrowded Prey Sar prison. Phou Povsun, a Phnom Penh municipal court judge, confirmed the 13 women had been sentenced, but said some of those sentences had been partly suspended. “Six women were convicted to two years and six months each in jail. Another six will spend two years each in jail,” he said. “The oldest woman will spend one year in jail,” he said, referring to 72-year-old Nget Khun.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical officer at Licadho, said well-known village representative Tep Vanny was among those who had received the full sentence, along with Heng Mom, Chheng Leap, Bouv Saleap, Kong Chantha, Phann Chhunreth and Tol Srey Pao. “Convicting these people does not end this land dispute,” he said. Ham Sunrith, the women’s lawyer, said he walked out of the courtroom in the morning after judges refused his proposal to have the case heard later with witnesses – two of whom were arrested outside the court as a crowd of more than 60 protested. “We will lodge an appeal if [the women] agree,” he said. SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the trial was proof Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government was terrorising its people.
“I am so shocked. This must be condemned. This is total manipulation of the court,” she said. Mu Sochua called on the international community to suspend aid that went directly to Cambodia’s government, singling out the US – as Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the US State Department, arrived in Cambodia yesterday. “I’m calling on the internat-ional community to suspend aid,” she said, adding that financial contributions from overseas should henceforth enter Cambodia through NGOs. “I call on women’s networks across the world to take action. I call on [US Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to take action. “If aid continues to flow into the hands of the leaders who totally violate human rights, especially women’s rights, the government will remain totally unaccountable to its people – it will have no legitimacy.”
Sok Sam Oeun, former director of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project, said the trial had not followed national law. “In pre-trial detention, according to the law, we have . . . a summary trial, which means the prosecutor can send the people to trial without pressing any investigation charge, but the law says that if they are arrested, the trial must be within the same day they are arrested,” he said. Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak said such a violation left the Kingdom’s justice system at the crossroads. “It appears the trial was a show. It was predetermined. City hall was being the judge. The judiciary was not independent,” he said.
Ou Virak said the court system’s inability to bring anyone to justice over the shooting of three women at the Kaoway Sports factory in Bavet – which deposed Bavet governor Chhouk Bandith is accused of – proved yesterday’s trial could not have been fair. “If the court cannot even detain him in so many months, how can they sentence 13 people in one day?” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said yesterday’s trial was the death knell for justice in Cambodia. “This case is an all-new low that says succinctly, ‘Cambodian justice: RIP’. “The tycoons and government cronies behind the Boeung Kak project, and their supporters at the highest levels of government, should be ashamed that their greed has suddenly torn mothers and grandmothers away from their children.”
The actions of the court and the government were outrag-eous and unjust, he said. “Charging and convicting women for exercising their rights to express their views and peacefully assemble, then denying them time to prepare their case, and refusing to allow defence witnesses – these are the actions of a kangaroo court jumping to the tune sung by its political masters in the CPP and the government.” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the trial had nothing to do with the government. “We have no comment,” he said, referring the Post to the Ministry of Justice, which, along with the Phnom Penh municipal authority, could not be reached for comment.