Jailed Boeung Kok Activists Recovering

April 5, 2015

Sunday, 05 April 2015; News by Khmer Times/Muny Sithyna

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Three jailed Boeung Kak activists are recovering after banging their heads against a wall to protest against prison guards they claim are mistreating them.
The activists, Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, and Kong Chantha, have recovered but remain light-headed at times, said Ou Kong Chea, husband of Ms. Vanny. The prison guards refused to let them out of their cells, prompting the women to begin hitting their heads against the cell walls.
Ms. Vanny lost four of her teeth and suffered a swollen head. Ms. Chantha was seriously cut in two spots on her head before she was transported to the Khmer-Russian Friendship Hospital for stitches. She was brought back to Prey Sar Prison.
“I visited them on Saturday. Chantha is still light-headed after receiving treatment at the hospital,” said Tep Vanny’s husband. “Vanny could not eat well, she and Chhorvy are still light-headed too.”
“The weather is hot, who could endure the heat? It could affect their life,” he added.

‘Same Faces’ Protest Against PM’s Comments

March 31, 2015

By: Mech Dara , The Cambodia Daily, | March 31, 2015

Incensed by the prime minister’s assertion last week that the “same faces” always show up at protests, a group of Phnom Penh’s most prominent anti-eviction activists picketed City Hall on Monday to vent their anger.

At the opening of the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on March 23, Mr. Hun Sen took aim at the active protest movement in the city, and the NGOs he claims are behind it, saying that “Cambodia has become a paradise for inciting demonstrations, and the demonstrators have the same faces again and again.”

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Former Boeng Kak residents submit a petition at the World Bank’s office in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

On Monday, as about 50 members of the displaced Boeng Kak community petitioned the World Bank and the U.S. and E.U. embassies, asking for their intervention, another 30 activists who regularly front land-rights protests played perfectly to the prime minister’s narrative.

“We came here to rebuke the accusations of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who accused us of being the same faces coming to protest again and again,” Bov Sorphea said.

Ms. Sorphea has come to the fore of recent demonstrations in the absence of Tep Vanny, who was jailed along with six others for obstructing traffic after placing a bed on the road outside City Hall in November to protest severe flooding of the Boeng Kak neighborhood.

Ms. Sorphea reasoned that the same faces were present at protests because the prime minister had failed to solve the city’s many land disputes and address, in particular, the long-running grievances of the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities.

“It’s like someone is drowning, but you do not help the person who is drowning, you take a paddle and hit them on the head,” she said.

Weather Phnom-Penh Nation View Other News Protesters Look to US, EU for Help With Boeung Kak

March 30, 2015

Monday, 30 March 2015; News by Khmer Times/Nov Sivutha

PHNOM PENH, Mar. 30 (Khmer Times) – The Boeung Kak Lake Women Association and thirteen families handed out petitions urging the United States and the European Union to push the government of Cambodia into finding a solution for the persisting land rights issue.
“The United State must take a role in asking the government of Cambodia about human rights abuses and housing rights,” the petition says.
A representative of the Boeung Kak Community, Sear Nareth, told Khmer Times, “I left my land because they threatened me by dredging into my house.”
“I will continue to protest until there is a good solution,” she said.
She claimed that the World Bank is responsible for the situation in Beoung Kak because they have given loans to companies developing in the area.


New $2.9M Mosque Inaugurated in Phnom Penh

March 28, 2015

By:Khuon Narim and Mech Dara , The Cambodia Daily, | March 28, 2015

At the edge of a sand-filled Boeng Kak lake in Phnom Penh on Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated the country’s newest—and largest—mosque, which was privately funded by a Dubai-based businessman at a cost of $2.9 million.

The palatial, white-tiled Alserkal mosque served as stage for a speech from Mr. Hun Sen in which he lauded the country’s religious tolerance to an audience made up largely of Cham Mus­lims, some of whom had traveled from the provinces for the occasion.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen greets people at the inauguration of the Alserkal mosque in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

There are roughly 350,000 Muslims in Cambodia, and the religious minority has been a reliable voting bloc for Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

An estimated 70,000 Cham Muslims died under the Khmer Rouge, and they were afforded only limited religious freedom during the 1980s. Many have remained loyal to the CPP because of the party’s tolerant religious stance.

“We see the world, in some countries religion has broken the nation,” Mr. Hun Sen told his audience Friday. “But for Cambodia, I can proudly to say that we have lived together peacefully among races and religions.”

Mr. Hun Sen noted the government’s policy allowing Muslim girls to wear hijabs to state schools—an issue that other countries, including France, have struggled with—and called on business owners to find space in their establishments for prayer.

“The Cambodian government has decided that Muslim women can use Muslim clothing to go to [state] schools,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

“I send a message to people who run businesses like hotels: If they want Muslim customers to stay at their hotel, you should prepare rooms for praying,” he added.

After the prime minister’s speech, a call to prayer rang out and an estimated 1,000 Muslims prayed shoulder-to-shoulder in the packed halls of the two-story mosque, which replaced an older mosque on the same site. Due to the size of the crowd, some prayed on the building’s steps.

The construction was funded by Dubai-based import-export businessman Eisa bin Nasser, and took three years to complete. It is the biggest of Cambodia’s 520 mosques, according to Cambodian mufti Sos Kimri.

Inside the air-conditioned prayer halls, the walls are lined with rose and turquoise tiles, the ceiling covered in tessellating mosaic and a grand chandelier hangs from the central dome vaulting. The calligraphy and ceramic were commissioned from Algerian artisans, Mr. bin Nasser said.

Washing parts of their body in a pre-prayer ritual at two gazebos flanking the mosque, worshipers then trickled in: men into the main hall, women into a separate, smaller room to the side.

“I came to see the new mosque and I am very happy to see it,” said San Isan, 56, from Takeo province. “Our mosque is not beautiful like this because we are poor and do not have money.”

Civil Society Groups Call for Release of Boeung Kak Activists in Cambodia

March 6, 2015

By: Samean Yun nad Roseanne Gerin, RFA,  March 06, 2015

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Women land activists being arrested by police outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Nov. 11, 2014.

Civil society organizations have called for the release of 12 land rights defenders and activists imprisoned for their involvement in land disputes related to the Boeung Kak development project in the Cambodian capital, saying they have been jailed for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

The 30 groups, which include the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Adhoc, and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), on Friday called for the release of the dozen activists—11 of whom are women—in the run-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

“As the recently adopted United Nations General Assembly resolution on women human rights defenders testifies, women who work to defend human rights face risks and challenges that require specific attention and protection,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“International Women’s Day, held this week, provides the perfect occasion for this government to garner international credibility by affirming the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders, especially women defenders, in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, however, brushed off the request, saying the state could not interfere with court decisions.

The imprisoned activists include Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, Phan Chhunreth, Bo Chhorvy, Nong Sreng, Heng Pich, Im Srey Touch, Phoung Sopheap, Buddhist monk Seung Hai, and housing rights defender Ly Seav Minh.

Residents of the Boeung Kak Lake community—a settlement that included nine villages surrounding a lake in the Cambodia capital Phnom Penh—have fought authorities for years over the eviction of thousands of families to make way for a development project that has yet to materialize.

They argue that a development project backed by Lao Meng Khin, a lawmaker from Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party, has caused flooding in the community.

Several dozen families are still waiting for land titles owed to them after Hun Sen in 2011 reclaimed part of the concession awarded to Lao Meng Khin’s company Shukaku Inc. in 2007.

Obstructing traffic

Seven of the activists—Nget Khun, Tep Vanny, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, Phan Chhunreth, Bo Chhorvy, and Nong Sreng—were arrested on Nov. 10, 2014, and charged with obstructing traffic as they protested flooding in their community. They received the maximum sentence of one year in prison and were fined about U.S. $500 each.

Three other activists and a monk were detained the following day while peacefully protesting outside the courthouse for the release of their fellow activists.

They were convicted of obstructing public officials, and later an appeal court upheld their convictions, which were handed down in proceedings that did not meet fair trial standards, according to the civil society groups.

On Nov. 18, 2014, Ly Seav Minh, another activist, and her father Ly Srea Kheng were arrested because of their involvement in a land dispute with the Khun Sear Import Export Company after they refused to vacate a plot of land in the Boeung Kak 1 area.

The father was released on bail, but his daughter was denied it and charged with using violence against a possessor in good faith of an immovable property, the statement said. She has been in provisional detention waiting for her case to be heard.

The groups’ statement went on to say that the Cambodian government must demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights, as it recently pledged to the international community during its last Universal Periodic Review in the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014 and before another review before the U.N. Human Rights Committee on March 17-18.

The Universal Periodic Review is a rights review mechanism through which all U.N. member states are examined every four years.

“The reluctance of the government to protect human rights defenders, and moreover its active role in restricting their rights to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights, represents a breach of the state’s obligations that cannot be tolerated anymore, the statement said.

“In addition to ending the use of courts to harass activists and human rights defenders, both local and national authorities should take serious steps to resolve the underlying land disputes and reach solutions that respect the rights of all parties, rather than silencing the voices of vulnerable and marginalised citizens and further stimulating conflicts.”

The statement issued by the civil society groups also pointed out that Cambodia’s constitution mandates that the government must respect human rights and ensure that the judiciary guarantees impartiality as well as protect the rights and freedoms of the citizens.”

It notes that the international conventions which Cambodia has recognized form part of the law to which trial judges must adhere.

“None of these protections were guaranteed to the 12 detainees, who have been jailed for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” the statement said.

Power separation

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government could not intervene with the court to release the activists.

“The NGOs’ statement confuses the public in terms of power separation between the state and the court,” he said.

He added that the statement has encouraged activists to abuse laws.

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or compensation to displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

International human right groups, such as Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture, and New York-based Human Rights Watch have all called for the immediate and unconditional overturning of the convictions of activists imprisoned for their involvement in protests related to the Boeung Kak development project.

Boeung Kak land talks fail

March 6, 2015

By: Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Phnom Penh Post   March 06, 2015

Following negotiations yesterday with Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong, representatives of 12 Boeung Kak community families complained that City Hall was not offering them nearly enough land to replace what had previously been taken from them.

The negotiations took place a day after Hong Sokkheng, rumoured to be the 51-year-old sister of a high-ranking Cambodian People’s Party member, said she would accept an offer of far less land than that which was taken from her in 2010.

However, after other Boeung Kak families yesterday complained about being offered insufficient land, Sokkheng said she would support those families in solidarity.

“We are the real victims, and we should have been offered a proper solution,” said Ly Nary, a member of one of the 12 families who negotiated with the municipality yesterday. “Phnom Penh municipal authorities should not use this solution policy, which seems to pressure and coerce us into taking a deal.”

Chinese-owned company Shukaku Inc destroyed about 3,600 square metres of her land by flooding it and inundating it with sand in 2010, Nary said.

During yesterday’s meeting, City Hall offered to give the 12 families land plots that amounted to about 30 per cent of the land each had lost.

Sen Touch, 45, who was also involved in negotiations, said that Shukaku’s land grabbing in order to build modern apartments in the area represented “social injustice”.

“I am very disappointed that Pa Socheatvong said that he has no land to offer us, when thousands of square metres of our land were grabbed by the company without any solution,” Touch said.

“Buildings are constructed on our land, but where is the justice for us?”

Sokkheng yesterday said that although she had previously agreed to accept a piece of land 8,580 square metres less than what she previously owned, she will now demand a better deal.

World Bank Rejects Meeting With Land Evictees

February 27, 2015

By:  , The Cambodia Daily, February  27, 2015

The World Bank has turned down a suggestion that it hold a meeting somewhere outside of Cambodia exclusively with families that have been forcibly evicted from their land before it decides whether to lift a current freeze on new lending to the country.

The Bank announced the freeze in August 2011 in response to the government’s refusal to issue land titles to families living in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak community, from which some 3,000 families—most of the neighborhood—were eventually evicted to make way for CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s real estate project.

The Bank is currently considering a new project in Cambodia that would effectively bring the freeze to an end and has announced plans to hold 11 meetings around the country with seven “key stakeholder groups.” But none of the groups includes the evictees themselves, the very group over whom the lending freeze was imposed.

In a February 3 letter to the Bank, U.S. lawyer Morton Sklar, working with local rights groups, asks it to schedule an additional meeting with evictees outside Cambodia so that they would feel free to speak their minds without fear of government intimidation.

In a February 20 reply obtained this week, World Bank country manager Alassane Sow tells Mr. Sklar that the Bank would be sticking to its original plans.

“All consultations will be held in Cambodia and meetings will be held with listed stakeholders as set forth in the consultation plan,” Mr. Sow says.

The reply provides no explanation for the Bank’s decision. Asked for one, World Bank country spokesman Bou Saroeun said Mr. Sow’s letter “speaks for itself.”

Reacting to the reply, Mr. Sklar said the Bank’s decision not to arrange a meeting with evictees was “a very perplexing and disturbing result.”

“[T]he World Bank’s own Inspection Panel report that served as the basis for the loan ban being imposed in 2011 listed the systemic land eviction problem as the main reason why the World Bank should not give additional support to the Cambodian government until reforms were made in the land eviction policies,” Mr. Sklar said.

Last year, the Bank said the meetings would start in late 2014 or early 2015, but it has yet to schedule a single one.


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