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Release of Boeung Kak lake activists overshadowed by failure to achieve justice and further violence against peaceful demonstrators

UPDATE: Boeung Kak activist arrested and charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court (CCHR, 5 September 2012)

(CCHR/IFEX) - Phnom Penh, 27 June 2012 - The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) welcomes the release today of thirteen women activists from Boeung Kak Lake but condemns the Appeal Court for its failure to overturn the guilty verdicts entered against these women by the Phnom Penh Capital Court of First Instance and the use of force by authorities against demonstrators who had come out in support of the thirteen.

The thirteen women - Chan Navy, Chheng Leap, Heng Mom, Kong Chantha, Nget Khun, Nguon Kimleang, Phann Chhunreth, Pov Sophea, Song Sreyleap, Soung Sakmai, Tep Vanny, Tho Davy and Tol Sreypov - were convicted under Article 504 of the Penal Code 2009 (Aggravating Circumstances (Obstruction of Public Official)) and Article 34 of the Land Law 2001 (Illegal Occupation of Land) on 24 May 2012 and sentenced to two and a half years in prison (six months of this period was suspended in the cases of five women and a year and a half in the case of one) for their part in a peaceful demonstration. The Appeal Court today upheld the convictions of the women on both charges but reduced the sentences to one month and three days - the time served since their convictions - with the result that the women will be released today.

The verdict of the Appeal Court was welcomed with scenes of joy, as hundreds of demonstrators celebrated a decision that will see the women reunited with their families. While the immediate result of the verdict is to be welcomed, injustice prevails for as long as the convictions against these women remain. Of equal concern is the fact that, earlier in the day, authorities beat at least three people - including an 11 year old girl and a 14 year old boy - who had come to take part in a demonstration near the court in support of the thirteen activists. The third person - 25 year old Pov Sreysross who is a sister of one of the thirteen - is said to have suffered a miscarriage as a result of having been kicked in the abdomen by a member of the security forces.

Responding to the decision of the Appeal Court, CCHR President Ou Virak commented: "We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly today. The release of the thirteen women is to be welcomed of course but they remain convicted of crimes as a result of their having taken part in a peaceful demonstration. Meanwhile at least three more peaceful demonstrators - two children and a pregnant woman - who came out this morning in support of these women, were beaten with the result that the two children sustained injuries and the woman lost her unborn child. The convictions of these women must be overturned and Phnom Penh city hall must act to resolve the Boeung Kak Lake conflict once and for all so that this community need no longer be forced to demonstrate for fair treatment at such an incredible cost to their lives."

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