The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources, including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), about the retrial and renewed sentencing of Ms. Yorm Bopha, a housing and land rights activist who was pivotal in organising and leading protests against the forced evictions of residents from the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh.
According to the information received, on June 28, 2016, Ms. Yorm Bopha was found guilty for a second time by the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh, during a retrial in relation to an alleged attack on two motorbike taxi drivers on August 7, 2012. Ms. Yorm Bopha was given a three-year prison sentence, of which she already served 14 months and 18 days, with the remainder of her sentence to be suspended. Despite being given a further two and a half years to investigate the case, the authorities failed to produce any credible evidence linking Ms. Yorm Bopha to the alleged attack.
The Observatory recalls that Ms. Yorm Bopha was arrested in September 2012 and originally sentenced to three years in prison in December 2012, after being found guilty of the attack. Following an international campaign for her release, Ms. Yorm Bopha was released on bail in November 2013 after spending 444 days in prison, and her case sent to the Court of Appeals (see background information).
The Observatory condemns Ms. Yorm Bopha’s renewed conviction on the basis of questionable allegations, and despite the fact that no credible evidence was presented at her trial. The Observatory considers that Ms. Yorm Bopha was prosecuted and convicted because of her legitimate activities as a high-profile land and housing rights activist, in contradiction with international human rights standards and Cambodia’s international obligations. The Observatory therefore calls for Ms. Yorm Bopha’s full acquittal and all charges against her to be cleared.
Several families from the Boeung Kak Lake community have been battling forced evictions since 2007, when the government leased their land to a private Cambodian company, Shukaku, for development purposes. In May 2012, after 13 members of the Boeung Kak Lake community (the “Boeung Kak 13”) were arbitrarily arrested, Ms. Yorm Bopha actively campaigned for their release. She maintained a high-profile presence at every demonstration, became a media spokesperson for the campaign, and publicly criticized government officials. Due to this new-found prominence, Ms. Yorm Bopha was verbally threatened, harassed, and intimidated.
On September 4, 2012, Ms. Yorm Bopha was detained for allegedly ordering her brothers to assault two motorbike taxi drivers near her home on August 7, 2012. Ms. Bopha has denied these allegations.
On December 27, 2012, Ms. Yorm Bopha was sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to three years in prison for “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under Article 218 of the Criminal Code. Much of the so-called evidence produced during her trial was based on the testimony of the two alleged victims - civil parties to the case who sat in the court room the whole time, who were not required to swear an oath and who stood to gain considerable compensation pending a guilty verdict. The accounts of the alleged victims were often convoluted and uncorroborated. The prosecution witnesses, one of whom was the father of one of the alleged victims, continually changed their stories and contradicted one another.
On June 14, 2013, the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh upheld the conviction of Ms. Yorm Bopha on an altered charge of instigation of violence, but suspended one year of her three-year original sentence on the grounds that she did not directly commit the act.
In August 2013, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) declared that the detention of Ms. Yorm Bopha was arbitrary as her deprivation of liberty resulted from having peacefully exercised her right to freedom of expression .
Following widespread outcry over her conviction, on November 22, 2013, Ms. Yorm Bopha was released from prison following a ruling by the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, which ordered her release on bail and sent her case back to the Court of Appeals for further investigation and a retrial. Since that date, her retrial has been hanging over her head like a sword of Damocles, amounting to further harassment.
Please write to the authorities of Cambodia urging them to:
i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Yorm Bopha, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;
ii. Fully acquit and clear Ms. Yorm Bopha of all charges as her conviction only aims at sanctioning her human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Yorm Bopha, as well as against all human rights defenders in Cambodia so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals;
iv. Comply with all the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 12.1 and 12.2;
v. Guarantee in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international and regional human rights instruments signed or ratified by the Kingdom of Cambodia.
· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / 855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 212708
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 364 119
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 216 144 / 855 23 216 141 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 882 065, Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Bun Hun, President of the Cambodian Bar Association, Fax: +855 23 864 076, Email: email@example.com
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.