Boeung Kak takes case to Assembly

Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post, May.29 2012

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Boeung Kak residents protest the continued detention of 15 people from their community. Thirteen of the activists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison at the conclusion of a controversial trial.

About 200 people, including activist monk Loun Savath, rallied outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh yesterday in support of the 13 Boeung Kak women sentenced to prison in a three-hour trial last Thursday.

Supporters of the women, including villagers, unions and human rights groups, called for the government to release the women as well as two more villagers, Ly Chanary and Sao Sareoun, the group’s only man, who were detained outside the women’s trial.

Demonstrators, who had pieces of paper stuck to their shirts saying, “Land robber is free. Landowner is jailed”, joined hands yesterday to sing songs about losing their houses to make way for CPP senator Lao Meng Khin’s $79 million development at the Boeung Kak lake site.

Yom Bopha, 32, a resident of village 22, said an assembly official had accepted a petition addressed to National Assembly President Heng Samring.

“Our neighbours are victims,” she said. “We hope and believe the National Assembly will find justice for us.”

Award-winning human rights activist Loun Savath, who was himself detained outside the court on Thursday, joined yesterday’s demonstration a day after telling the Post that senior monks had forced him to sign an agreement not to protest.

Ham Sunrith, defence lawyer for the 13 Boeung Kak women, said he had filed an appeal to the court.

“I filed the appeal this afternoon,” he said.

Sao Sareoun and Ly Chanary, who both live in village 1, were questioned in court immediately after the women’s trial and charged with the same offences.

They remain in pre-trial detention in Prey Sar without a trial date.

Their defence lawyer, Long Lun, was in Thailand yesterday when the Post called him and said he would push the court to proceed with a fair trial upon his return.

Following Thursday’s three-hour trial, Phnom Penh municipal court sentenced the 13 womento two-and-a-half year’s in Prey Sar prison.

They were arrested a week ago and accused of disputing authorities and occupying land owned by Shukaku, Lao Meng Khin’s development firm.

Some of the women, including 72-year-old Nget Khun, had part of their sentences suspended and will serve either one or two years in prison.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said the 14 female Boeung Kak villagers remained together in Prey Sar, while Sao Sareoun was being held in another part of the prison.

The conditions in Prey Sar were “unlike any Western prison”, he said, before again condemning last week’s trial.

“Civil society is disappointed and really concerned, because the court is not independent and does not protect the rights of the people,” he said. “There is just protection for the rich and powerful . . . We want to see enforcement of the rule of law.”

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana was not available for comment yesterday.

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