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Activist Yorm Bopha again found guilty

Land rights activist Yorm Bopha arrives yesterday at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, where she was handed a three-year, largely suspended sentence for intentional violence.
Land rights activist Yorm Bopha arrives yesterday at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, where she was handed a three-year, largely suspended sentence for intentional violence. Hong Menea

Activist Yorm Bopha again found guilty

Prominent Boeung Kak land rights activist Yorm Bopha has again been found guilty of organising the beating of two motodops in 2012, this time by the Court of Appeal, but will not face any additional jail time.

Bopha, 32, spent a year and eight days behind bars after originally being found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison over the attack.

However, following an international campaign seeking her release, in November of 2013, the Supreme Court ordered Bopha be granted bail and the case sent to the Appeal Court.

Bopha was yesterday once again sentenced to three years in prison, but the remainder of the sentence was suspended. She was also ordered to pay the victims 10 million riel (about $2,500). No reasoning was provided in court for the verdict.

Bopha’s ex-husband, Lous Sakhon, who had already received a three-year suspended sentence for the beatings, also was ordered to pay 10 million riel. The pair was originally fined a total of 60 million riel.

E Sophors, president of the motodop group the Cambodia Confederation Development Association, said the ruling was “justice”. “Even though the amount was decreased, at least [the victims] got something,” he said. “I think the court is providing justice because we have been waiting for years and they have not received any compensation for their injuries.”

Vath Sarath, 53, father of Vath Thaiseng, one of the attacked motodops, and uncle to the other, Nget Chet, said that 20 million riel was not much. “My son and nephew suffered a lot. I would suggest [Bopha] stop here at the Appeal Court.”

But Bopha said she plans to make another appeal, this time with the Supreme Court, even though she felt “hopeless” about the result. “The Appeal Court does not do their work, because they have not given me justice yet.

Because I am a land activist, that is why authorities are framing me. They want to silence those activists, but I want to say I will not stop here.”

Human rights veterans expressed concern with the verdict. “Having followed the case closely with Amnesty International, which campaigned for Yorm Bopha’s release when she was convicted and jailed, there was not strong evidence [against her], so I’m disappointed in the verdict, but I’m pleased she’s not going to prison,” said Rupert Abbott, who recently left the NGO and is now a human rights consultant.

He added the verdict was emblematic of a broader climate of government restrictions on activists’ right to assembly and expression.

Environmental activist Chum Hout said: “The court in Cambodia always suppresses those who are outstanding activists, just like in the Yorm Bopha case and the three environmental activists in Koh Kong.”

Bopha’s two brothers, charged with carrying out the attacks, were not in court and their verdicts were not announced.

Additional reporting by Donna M Airoldi

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