Free Cambodians jailed after forced eviction protest-Amnesty

A Boeung Kak lake resident is detained by police officers during a violent clash over disputed land at the Boeung Kak site in Phnom Penh May 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Samrang Pring)

Tue, 26 Jun 2012

BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – A group of Cambodian women jailed after protesting in support of families whose homes were destroyed during a forced eviction should be freed and their convictions overturned, Amnesty International says.

On May 24, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged, tried, convicted and sentenced 13 women, including a grandmother, to 30 months in prison for illegal occupancy of public property among other charges, the rights group said.

The trial took place just 48 hours after the women - community representatives - were arrested following a peaceful protest at Boeung Kak Lake where thousands of people have been forcibly evicted from their homes since August 2008. The lake is in the capital Phnom Penh.

An appeal hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

"These women are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for speaking out on behalf of their community and for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression," said Amnesty's Cambodia researcher Rupert Abbott in a statement.

"The unfair convictions should be overturned, and the women immediately and unconditionally released," he added.

Abbott also said the charges against them are baseless and their trial was "grossly unfair".

Amnesty said the court denied requests from the defence lawyers to give them time to prepare their cases and the defendants were not given access to evidence or allowed to call witnesses.

According to the rights group, the municipality of Phnom Penh entered into a 99-year lease agreement with Shukaku Inc, owned by a ruling party senator, for an area covering the Boeung Kak Lake and surrounding land, in 2007.

The lease was made without any consultation with the affected population and residents were subjected to harassment and threats by company workers and others, it said.
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