Phnom Penh (September 6, 2012) – In
the past three days, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has ordered the unjustified
pre-trial detention of two female land rights advocates in unrelated cases. These
two incidents are the latest in a long string of incidents in which the courts have
been wielded as a weapon to silence victimized communities.
The two arrested activists have
long been struggling to advocate on behalf of powerless residents involved in
land disputes with some of Cambodia’s most well-connected and powerful business
On September 4, in the first
case, outspoken Boeung Kak Lake community representative Yorm Bopha was sent to
Prey Sar (CC2) prison to await trial on charges of intentional violence with
aggravating circumstances under Article 218 of the Penal Code. Authorities
claim she was involved in the beating of a suspected thief who had stolen wing
mirrors from her car.
Witnesses told civil society
investigators that the individual beaten had been suspected of stealing the mirrors
on multiple occasions. Bopha had complained to local police several times, but
they took no action. On Aug. 7, the suspect stood nearby her car. This time,
local residents took notice and allegedly beat him.
Bopha was not present, and was
never questioned by authorities about the incident. Nevertheless, in a break
from usual protocol, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Te Samnag issued an order
to bring both Bopha and her husband – a step above the usual summons for
questioning. An order to bring is essentially the equivalent of an arrest
warrant in that it allows for immediate detention. After minimal questioning,
Judge Te Samnang ordered Bopha detained, but released her non-activist husband.
Bopha has been involved in
numerous peaceful demonstrations since Shukaku Inc. began filling Boeung Kak
Lake, evicting thousands of families from their homes in the process. She was
also leading numerous protests for the Boeung Kak 13, a group of women arrested
earlier this year on May 22 and imprisoned for over a month.
“Bopha’s arrest is an obvious
attempt to threaten people over their recent calls for the demarcation of 12.44
hectares of land that the Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to us over a year
ago,” said Tep Vanny, one of the Boeung Kak 13.
Then yesterday morning, a second
land activist was detained in a separate case. Tim Sakmony, a prominent
representative of evicted families from Borei Keila, was ordered detained in
CC1 prison on charges that she made a “false declaration” under article 633 of
the Penal Code. The complaint against Ms. Sakmony was filed by Phanimex company
owner Suy Sophan. Phanimex was awarded the Borei Keila community’s land in
exchange for a promise to build 10 apartment buildings for the current
residents. The company decided, however, to build only eight buildings, which
led to the ongoing land dispute.
Authorities claim that Sakmony
made a “false declaration” in an attempt to secure an apartment for her 49-year-old
disabled son who is a resident of the Borei Keila community. Her son, a widower
and former soldier, is suffering from partial paralysis and cannot speak.
“The charge is farcical,
considering that her son is in fact entitled to an apartment in the Borei Keila
buildings,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. “How is it fraudulent to
advocate for someone’s rights under the law?”
Article 633 prohibits providing a
“false declaration to a public body for the purpose of obtaining an allowance,
a payment or any unlawful advantage.” The crime is punishable by imprisonment
from six months to two years, and a fine from 1 million to 4 million Riels
(USD250 – 1000).
The use of pretrial detention in
these cases is particularly shocking, given that Cambodia’s Code of Criminal
Procedure states that pre-trial detention may only be ordered in “exceptional”
circumstances. The law also states that such detention may only be ordered where
it is necessary to stop an offense from occurring, to prevent witness or victim
harassment, to prevent collusion among accomplices, to preserve evidence, to
protect public order, or to guarantee the presence and/or security of the
accused. None of those circumstances are present in either Bopha or Sakmony’s
“Ever increasing is the use of
criminalization and pre-trial detention to silence the decent voices of victimized
communities, their representatives and human rights defenders. This is a
systematic, repeated and consistent tactic that is in violation of the
fundamental and constitutional rights of all Cambodians,” said Mr. Yeng Virak,
Executive Director of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).
The court should reconsider the
necessity of pre-trial detention in these two cases, and independently review
any appeals of the detention orders under the specific legal requirements
described above. We, the undersigned civil society organizations, believe such
a review should lead to the women’s release, enabling them to better prepare
their defense in accordance with the law.
Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC)
Cambodian Food and
Service Worker Federation (CFSWF)
Servants Association (CICA)
Education Center (CLEC)
Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
Cambodian League for
the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Housing Rights Task
Sahmakum Teang Tnaut