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Courts tools in fight against dissent: NGOs

Cambodia's courts were being used as weapons in the government’s quest to silence land protesters, right groups claimed yesterday.

Licadho, Equitable Cambodia and the Housing Rights Task Force were among a coalition of NGOs to condemn the pre-trial detention of Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony, who were locked in Prey Sar prison this week after being charged in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

“Ever increasing is the use of criminalisation and pre-trial detention to silence the decent voices of victimised communities, their representatives and human-rights defenders,” Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said.

“This is a systematic, repeated and consistent tactic that is in violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of all Cambodians.”

Boeung Kak village representative Yorm Bopha, 29, was arrested by plainclothed officials on Tuesday and charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, related to a thief being beaten at Boeung Kak.

She denies involvement, and her lawyer, Ham Sunrith, said he would urge the court to hear her case as soon as possible.

Borei Keila evictee Tim Sakmony, 65, who the Post reported yesterday as being charged with incitement, had actually been charged with making a false declaration to try to secure an apartment at Borei Keila, Licadho senior adviser Am Sam Ath said.

“[Sakmony] admitted to receiving a flat from the company and said she had protested to demand a flat for her disabled son,” he said, adding a guilty verdict could carry two years’ jail and a US$985 fine.  

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the government did not interfere in the courts and court officials were “held to their own account”.

“The opposition party is always insulting us about this [alleged interference], but the courts are entirely independent,” he said.

Siphan said senior ministers had left Boeung Kak alone since Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree last August granting villagers 12 hectares of land, adding it fell to the municipal authority to demarcate that land.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com
Khouth Sophak Chakrya at sophakchakrya.khouth@phnompenhpost.com

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