Activist Yorm Bopha has lost count of the number of times she has been threatened and beaten by the authorities while peacefully protesting the forced evictions related to the high-profile land conflict at Boeng Kak Lake that has raged since 2007 over social and environmental concerns.
When 13 land rights activists (the "Boeng Kak 13") were violently and arbitrarily arrested in May 2012 for participating in a peaceful demonstration, Bopha became a voice for the women's freedom. She publicly criticised government officials, making her a figure the authorities wanted to silence. Bopha was verbally threatened, harassed, intimidated and told repeatedly by police she was "on the blacklist" and "would be in trouble soon."
Bopha herself was arrested in September 2012 and framed in an assault case. She was sentenced to two years in prison on appeal.
"Considering the blatant lack of evidence to convict Bopha, it is widely believed that she was targeted as a result of her activism and outspokenness, especially during the campaign for the release of the Boeng Kak 13," says the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), which campaigns for her release.
From behind bars, Bopha remains committed to the cause and appreciative of international support, saying, "Now I know that neither I, nor the demands of my fellow activists who are outside prison, are forgotten."
A special thank you to Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the Free Yorm Bopha campaign and Jenny Holligan, photographer for contributing to this action.
Speaking out should not result in a prison sentence. Sign the petition demanding Yorm Bopha's release.
Supreme Court President His Excellency Dith Munty
Khan Chamkar Mon,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Petition: Cambodian Supreme Court Must Deliver Justice in Case of Wrongfully Imprisoned Human Rights Activist
As we mark the upcoming International Day to End Impunity on 23 November, we would like to point out that Cambodian land and housing rights activist Yorm Bopha has been wrongfully detained for over 14 months. She was convicted on bogus criminal charges in December 2012 for exercising her rights to free expression and assembly. Bopha is a 29-year-old mother of one who for years has tirelessly advocated for the land rights of the Boeung Kak community of Phnom Penh. Prior to her arrest on 4 September 2012, Bopha was beaten by law enforcement during peaceful protests, threatened and told that she was "on the black list."
Members of the Boeung Kak community have been embroiled in a high-profile land conflict since 2007, when their land was sold by the Cambodian government to a private company owned by a leading party senator for the development of high-end real estate. Bopha emerged at the forefront of a campaign to release 13 women activists who were convicted and imprisoned in May 2012. Bopha became a spokesperson for her community, until she and her husband Lous Sakhorn were convicted in September 2012 on charges of assault, based on a far-fetched account by two motorbike taxi drivers. Bopha and her husband received the same guilty verdict, however Sakhorn's sentence was suspended, while Bopha was immediately put behind bars, which underlines that this is a purely political case. One year of Bopha's three-year sentence was suspended on appeal in June 2013.
Bopha is an extremely strong woman and activist, however her prolonged detention and absence from her family have taken their toll on her. The fact that she is a grassroots activist and that the charges against her are not directly related to her human rights work has meant that she has received less support than other imprisoned human rights defenders. As a result she remains in prison.
The guilty verdict against Bopha amounts to a gross violation of her right to be tried by an independent and impartial judiciary and her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Her continued arbitrary detention in sub-standard conditions is also a clear violation of her rights and her arrest was in violation of her right to freedom of expression and assembly, as protected under Cambodian and international law.
At the hearing for Yorm Bopha's appeal on 22 November, we call on the Cambodian Supreme Court to release her unconditionally, if it finds that the trial did not comply with international standards.