With Tep Vanny and other Boeung Kak activists back in prison, Yorm Bopha is again ready to lead her community’s fight for justice.
“I feel worried – scared – about being re-arrested … but we need to do this,” she said yesterday. “I am ready to be imprisoned again if they want to arrest and charge me unjustly.”
Bopha, a land-rights activist who spent more than a year in prison after her arrest in September 2012, missed the protests this week that have led to 10 activists and one monk being rounded up and swiftly sentenced to one year in prison. Two other monks have been arrested and charged.
The trials took place as authorities stepped up pressure on the opposition party, arresting two Cambodia National Rescue Party officials and denying bail to a third on charges related to violent protests in July.
Even though she has an unfinished court case hanging over her head, Bopha said she is already filling in the hole left by the imprisonment of her community’s most strident protesters, including Vanny, Nget Khun and Song Srey Leap.
“Right now, we are making a new strategy for demonstrations, calling for the government to release all our members.”
Like other events this week, Bopha’s words evoke memories of May 2012, when the imprisonment of the protesters who became known as the “Boeung Kak 13” quickly made her the community’s de facto leader.
Suddenly thrust to the front and centre, Bopha called for the release of those women, speaking out against the government and squaring off against security personnel. For her efforts, she was threatened and warned that her name was on a government “list”, something that effectively foretold her arrest.
While the 13 women were released in June 2012, Bopha was jailed that September, accused of masterminding an axe attack on two men.
Next week will be a year since she was freed. The Supreme Court ordered a retrial of her case, but that has yet to happen. Concerns that it suddenly will are something Bopha has pushed aside.
“[Today], we will take a petition to the National Assembly,” she said. “We also plan to gather outside Prey Sar prison to tell those women we will not forget them.”
Although Bopha has protested many times since her release – and even been arrested again – her former husband Lous Sakhorn is cautious about her plans in the current climate.
“We have to take care, especially for our son,” he said.
But Ee Sarom, executive director of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said he does not expect more arrests.
“There were not many protesters in front of court [on Wednesday],” he said. “Maybe authorities will see that as success.”
Sarom added, though, that protests will continue today. “They are not changing tactics. The community members are not scared.”