UPDATE from CCHR: Authorities attempt to crack down on peaceful community march in Cambodia (4 September 2013)
4 September 2013 marks one year since land rights activist Yorm Bopha was arrested near her home in the Boeung Kak area of Phnom Penh. She was apprehended alongside her husband on trumped up charges of "intentional violence with aggravating circumstances" under Article 218 of the Cambodian Criminal Code relating to the alleged assault of two motorbike taxi drivers. Yorm Bopha was immediately placed in pre-trial detention while her husband was released on bail.
Prior to Yorm Bopha's arrest and detention she had become a prominent public figure at the forefront of her community's struggle against land grabbing and forced eviction. As a result she was regularly threatened and intimidated by authorities who told her that she "was on the blacklist" and that she would "be in trouble soon".
During her trial on 26 December 2012 it became clear that there was absolutely no legal basis for the charges against Yorm Bopha. The three Prosecution witnesses regularly contradicted one another and the testimony of the two alleged victims, who admitted to being drunk at the time of the alleged assault against them and who were not required to take an oath, was the main source of inculpatory evidence. All parties agreed that Yorm Bopha was not directly involved in any violence but the Prosecution claimed that she had instructed her two brothers to carry out the assault. Yorm Bopha's brothers were found guilty in absentia of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, despite the fact that they have been living far from Phnom Penh for several years. The case against Yorm Bopha was entirely dependent on the assumption that her brothers had carried out the assault and yet her brothers were not even present in court to defend themselves. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights ("CCHR") published a detailed legal analysis of the charges against Yorm Bopha, which it is re-releasing in order to advocate further for the activist's release.
CCHR also calls upon the Supreme Court to urgently hear Yorm Bopha's case, which has been pending for several months.
Yorm Bopha was convicted on 27 December 2012 and sentenced to three years in prison. This sentence was later reduced on appeal to two years. Based on the circumstances preceding her arrest and the fact that no concrete evidence was provided in court to warrant her conviction, it is clear that Yorm Bopha was targeted as a result of her activism, representing yet another case in which the Cambodian government attempts to silence dissent through the use of a corrupt judiciary.
CCHR President Ou Virak comments: "The continued imprisonment of Yorm Bopha despite the sheer lack of evidence against her just goes to show that she was never afforded her right to remain innocent before proven guilty and that this was a political case in which the verdict was pre-determined. Charging Yorm Bopha with an offence that does not directly relate to her activism was also an innovative move by the authorities and one that has cost Yorm Bopha the support of many international actors. As a grassroots activist Yorm Bopha faces a high level of risk; we must continue to rally together to demand her release and to put pressure on the Supreme Court to overturn her unjust conviction."
Free Yorm Bopha Campaigns Page
CCHR has created a Free Yorm Bopha Campaigns Page. This page gathers information on several campaign initiatives launched by CCHR in an attempt to secure the release of the land rights activist. On the campaigns page you will find easily accessible information on, or links to, the following: CCHR's "Voices for Freedom" campaign; a timeline of key events that took place during Yorm Bopha's 365 days in prison; CCHR's detailed legal analysis of the charges and evidence against the human rights defender; as well as various press releases relating to Yorm Bopha's case.