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Cambodian CSOs condemn decision to extend punishment of land rights activist Yorm Bopha

Yorm Bopha, center, is surrounded by a pack of journalists as she is escorted by prison guards at the end of her hearing at the Supreme Court, in Phnom Penh, 22 November 2013
Yorm Bopha, center, is surrounded by a pack of journalists as she is escorted by prison guards at the end of her hearing at the Supreme Court, in Phnom Penh, 22 November 2013

AP Photo/Heng Sinith

This statement was originally published on cchrcambodia.org on 29 June 2016.

We, the undersigned civil society organizations ("CSOs") condemn the decision made yesterday - 28 June 2016 - by the Appeal Court to find guilty for a second time Boeng Kak land rights activist Yorm Bopha, following a retrial in relation to an alleged attack on two motorbike taxi drivers in 2012. Bopha was given a three-year prison sentence, which will take into account the fourteen months and eighteen days she has already spent in prison, with the remainder of her sentence suspended.

On 4 September 2012, Ms. Bopha was charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances under Article 218 of the Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia in relation to a skirmish that had broken out near her house on 7 August 2012. Despite a glaring lack of evidence to link Yorm Bopha to the alleged violence, she was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. Her conviction, on an altered charge of instigation of violence, was upheld on appeal on 14 June 2013 and the custodial element of her original prison sentence was reduced from three to two years, with one additional year suspended.

Prior to her arrest and conviction, Yorm Bopha had been at the forefront of a campaign to release thirteen of her fellow activists who were arrested, charged and convicted in May 2012 for protesting against a forced eviction at Boeng Kak in Phnom Penh. The lack of sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction; Yorm Bopha's work as an outspoken activist; and a pattern of judicial harassment of Cambodian human rights defenders, led national and international human rights groups to believe that the case was politically motivated.

Following widespread outcry following her conviction, in November 2013 the Supreme Court ordered that Yorm Bopha should be temporarily released, and that her case should be sent back to the Court of Appeal for further investigation and a retrial. Yorm Bopha was present at the hearing, which took place last Monday, 20 June 2016. Despite being given a further two and a half years to investigate, the authorities again completely failed to produce any credible evidence linking Yorm Bopha to the alleged attack. It is clear that Yorm Bopha is being targeted in a flagrant attempt to silence her as a result of her activism defending the rights of her community.

Unfortunately this case is not an exception: land rights activists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society who seek to legitimately exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association continue to be harassed and intimidated.

This joint press release is endorsed by:

1 Affiliated Network for Social Accountability Cambodia (ANSA Cambodia)
2 Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
3 Boeung Trabek Community
4 Borie Keila Community
5 Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions (CATU)
6 Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
7 Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC)
8 Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
9 Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (COMFREL)
10 Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
11 Equitable Cambodia (EC)
12 Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
13 Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
14 Indradevi Association (IDA)
Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA)
15 Independent Monk Network for Social Justice
16 Indigenous Youth at Brame Commune, Preah Vihear Province
17 Kuoy Ethnic Community at Prame Commune, Preah Vihear Province
18 Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap Province
19 Land Conflict Community, Krous Village, Battambong province
20 Land Community, Village I, Sangkat III, Preah Sihanouk Province
21 Ponlok Khmer
22 Railway Station, Toul Sangke A Community
23 Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
24 SOS International Airport Community
25 Strey Khmer Organization (SKO)
26 Women Development Association (WDA)

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