Criminal convictions and more than a month in Prey Sar prison have done little to frighten the Boeung Kak 13, who yesterday vowed to keep fighting their land dispute until it is won.
“We are free,” Tep Vanny said at her home in Boeung Kak. “But we remain convicted criminals.”
The Court of Appeal reduced the women’s sentences on Wednesday from two-and-a-half years to one month and three days – time they had already served – but upheld guilty verdicts from their lawyer-less three-hour trial on May 24.
But Vanny said yesterday the women were innocent and believed the guilty verdict had been upheld because the authorities wanted to scare them into ending their protests.
“But I’m not afraid and I’m not scared. We will continue until there’s a solution.”
The women were arrested during a protest at Boeung Kak on May 22 and found guilty two days later of occupying state land and obstructing public officials in aggravating circumstances.
The judge reduced the sentence on Wednesday on the grounds many of them were mothers.
Heng Mom said she would continue protesting until Phnom Penh municipal officials demarcated 12.44 hectares of land that Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to villagers in August.
“My family and others have not received a land title from City Hall yet, so we will go on protesting until we have a solution,” she said.
Land at Boeung Kak was granted to Shukaku, a company owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, in 2007 for a US$79 million development. Thousands of families have since been evicted from the site.
Tol Srey Pov, who was grateful for her freedom yesterday, said the villagers would not “stay still” until they had a solution.
“We will file a complaint against [Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema] if he does not properly divide the 12.44 hectares,” she said.
Bov Sophea, another of the 13 women, was coming to terms yesterday with the fact that her sister Bov Srey Sras had lost her unborn baby after she was allegedly kicked in the stomach as supporters clashed with police on Wednesday.
“I am so sad this has happened to my sister, because it was her first child. I will help her to file a complaint to the police,” she said.
Despite numerous calls, Phnom Penh police commissioner Touch Naroth, Daunh Penh district police chief Hun Sothy and Chuktema could not be reached for comment.
Nget Khun, the oldest of the released women at 72, said she had been detained in a small building in Prey Sar with 60 others, including murderers.
“There was 1.2 square metres for four people to sleep on,” she said, adding she had paid 1,500 riel per day for clean water.
Support for the women’s release has flowed since the Court of Appeal’s decision but has come with calls for the convictions to be quashed.
NGOs Gender and Development for Cambodia, SILAKA, Cambodia Men’s Network and Legal Support for Children and Women said yesterday the convictions should be overturned because the initial trial was unjust. “We believe and hope that real justice will be given.”
Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk yesterday provided a tonne of milled rice, clothes and two million riel ($485) to 66 Boeung Kak families who had sent a petition to her.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party senators visited the 13 women yesterday and gave them packages of milled rice and 500,000 riel ($122).
To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at firstname.lastname@example.org