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Arrests, intimidation of displaced activists continue

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Phnom Penh, 24.01.12 - ARTICLE 19 has uncovered a trend of scare tactics employed by the authorities to silence activists from forcibly evicted communities into submission. The Borei Keila and Boeung Kak people are currently living under constant fear for speaking out against the evictions. Many activists have emerged from the rubble of the demolitions, but in exercising their right to freedom of expression, they face heavy reprisals in return.

The residents of Borei Keila and Boeung Kak neighbourhoods were bartered away when the Cambodian government signed agreements with construction companies to redevelop the land, in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Activists working on behalf of these communities are confronted with a slew of threats, ranging from police brutality, imprisonment, phone threats, constant surveillance, legal charges, and threats to their families..

Protestors from both communities have suffered illegal detention and fear of the possibility of future arrests. Twenty-four women and 6 children were detained from the Borei Keila community during a demonstration on 11 January 2012 and were held for one week at a correctional facility. Additionally, since April 2011, there have been eleven arrests during Boeung Kak demonstrations, 2 of which were children. All of them have since been released, but 8 Borei Keila men still remain in the notorious Prey Sar prison.

“The Cambodian authorities are waging a silent war on activists of evicted communities. The activists are faced with a difficult situation of either remaining silent and losing their homes, or speaking out and risking additional reprisals. The situation of the Borei Keila and Boeung Kak communities requires urgent international action to help put a firm stop to the countless rights violations that these vulnerable people are facing daily,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

“The mandate of the Cambodian authorities is to protect their citizens, but in stark contrast, they are displacing vulnerable communities and laying a heavy hand to silence them thereafter. The Cambodian government must cease all threats to the activists of these evicted communities, who have the right to actively voice their concerns,” continued Dr Callamard.

The Cambodian government agreed to give a construction company over half the land of Borei Keila for redevelopment in exchange for the construction of homes for Borei Keila families on the remaining land. However, in 2010 the company ceased construction with only 8 of the 10 buildings built, leaving approximately 300 families stranded and living in ad hoc shanties. On 3 January 2012, when demolition crews arrived to push the remaining families off the land, protesters were met by armed state forces, riot police with tear gas, and hammer-wielding company-hired guards.

At Boeung Kak Lake, women activists have recently received multiple phone threats from private numbers, telling them to stop protesting if they care for their families. The police and local authorities have also visited their homes, which are still at risk for demolition, on multiple occasions to make it known to the women that their children and husbands are at risk if they persist with their protests. During peaceful demonstrations, these women have been faced with blockades, along with police brutality involving electrical tasers, batons, and beatings. ARTICLE 19 has also learned that a pregnant women partaking in a Boeung Kak demonstration was beaten and later suffered a miscarriage.

Activists from both the Borei Keila and Boeung Kak communities are under constant surveillance. These activists are frequently followed by motorcyclists who are either armed or photographing them.

This alarming situation is not only limited to the capitol. For instance, on 19 January 2012, company-hired security guards armed with AK-47 assault rifles shot indiscriminately at 100 villagers protesting a land-grab of their cassava fields in Kratie province. Four activists were shot, one of whom had to be flown to Vietnam for urgent medical treatment.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Cambodian government to cease all forms of intimidation and harassment against these communities, and to allow the people to gather and peacefully demonstrate against these evictions. ARTICLE 19 also calls for the immediate release of all Borei Keila protestors who are currently detained at Prey Sar for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and for the government to immediately investigate the shootings at Kratie province and bring the perpetrators to justice.

ARTICLE 19 also urges the Cambodian government to uphold the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, to which Cambodia is a party.

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