Police shadow Boeung Kak women at ASEAN

 Bridget Di Certo, Phnom Penh Post, 15 July. 2012

Intense security for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Siem Reap was to be expected, but five women activists from Boeung Kak lake didn’t think they would be the centre of military and plainclothes police’s attention on Friday.

Police, however, are now an omnipresent dark cloud in Tep Vanny’s life, the activist said as she stood under the shade of a tree opposite the Sofitel Hotel, where Clinton gave a keynote address at a Lower Mekong Gender Equality Policy Dialogue yesterday.

“See? He is from Phnom Penh police, I recognise him,” she told the Post, pointing to a group of about six men loitering near her and the other women.

“And another one was in the café with me this morning,” she said, indicating another man.

Vanny said that since her release from prison on June 27, she has grown to know the faces of the men who watch her every move.

“I receive phone calls from anonymous men who ask me, ‘Where are you? Who are you with?’,” she said.

Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, who was also in Siem Reap to attend the dialogue, said she was gravely concerned for the safety of the women.

“They are totally surrounded by plainclothes policemen. I am very worried about their security. They have to stay tonight because they have a meeting with the US ambassador-at-large tomorrow morning,” Sochua said. “I worry about how safe they will be.”

The Post made numerous attempts to contact high-ranking police officials for comment yesterday, but none of them could be reached.

Vanny was among 13 women arrested during a land protest at Boeung Kak on May 22 and tried and convicted two days later of occupying state land and obstructing public officials in aggravating circumstances.

Their summary trial, without a lawyer or witnesses, lasted just three hours and they were sentenced to two and a half years in Prey Sar prison.

The Court of Appeal reduced their sentences on June 27 to time served, securing their release, but upheld guilty charges against them.

Vanny said her community had been on edge since the arrest of the 13 women and two other activists who have since been released on bail.

“Everyone is crazy,” she said. “Whenever I go outside, [my children] always ask me where I am going and beg me not to go outside because they are scared – scared the police will arrest me again – and they hold onto my legs,” the mother of two said with tears in her eyes.

“We have one message,” Vanny stressed. “Stop violence on women and children.”

The women told the Post earlier this week that they would visit Siem Reap in the hope of personally thanking Hillary Clinton, because they believed she had played a role in securing their release.

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