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Villain or victim? Protesters divided over activist pre-trial detention

Villain or victim? Protesters divided over activist pre-trial detention

Imprisoned Yorm Bopha has either been unjustly targeted for her role in Boeung Kak lake eviction protests or is responsible for the vicious beating of two motodops, depending on which protesters’ chants were true yesterday.

It was land evictees versus motodops in the capital as two separate protests revealed divided opinion over Bopha’s pre-trial detention in Prey Sar prison since her arrest last week on an intentional violence charge.

Almost 200 motodops, members of the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association, rode from Freedom Park to the Court of Appeal to demand the continued detention of the 29-year-old mother, who along with 65-year-old Borei Keila representative Tim Sakmony, was arrested last week.

Speaking outside the court, CCDA president E Sophors demanded justice for two of his members, who he claimed Bopha beat up at Boeung Kak recently.

“Yorm Bopha, her husband and her two brothers used violence against two members of my association, seriously injuring them, while they were waiting for customers outside a guesthouse last month,” he said. “We have evidence and witnesses.”

Lous Sakhorn, Bopha’s husband, has said the couple merely intervened to stop villagers beating a thief.

Vath Sarath, 47, the father and uncle of the two alleged victims, demanded US$20,000 compensation from Bopha to treat their “injuries”.

“My son has almost become a crazy person after he was beaten and stabbed four times in the head with a screwdriver,” he said, alleging one of Bopha’s brothers had wielded the tool.

Not all the motodops, however, were willing participants in the protest yesterday.

One man, who asked not to be named, said he had been forced to participate – or risk losing his turf.

“If I did not join, I would not be allowed to park and pick up customers from near a market,” he said. “So I had no choice but to join.”

On Monivong Boulevard, about 200 residents from the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities, mostly women and children, were blocked by about 100 police in their bid to reach the Ministry of Justice to file a petition objecting to the women’s arrest and detention. A clash ensued when protesters, some wearing masks that carried Bopha’s face and chanting slogans, resisted police efforts to stop them.

Sambou Soth, 60, Bopha’s mother, pleaded for the government and civil society to intervene to secure her daughter’s release.

“My daughter was jailed because she was outspoken in land disputes, [but] those protests were made only for the united interests of victims.”

Daun Penh district deputy police chief Sao Nol said officers had ended the march to avoid public disorder and traffic congestion.

Long Demong, a spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, said the authorities had been wary of confrontation between the two groups. “If we had allowed them to march together, anarchy would have erupted. It’s like throwing petrol on a fire.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said authorities should resolve land issues rather than arresting people and blocking subsequent protests.

To contact the reporters on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]
Mom Kunthear at [email protected]
With assistance from Shane Worrel

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