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After prison, Bopha undeterred

Boeung Kak lake land-rights activist Yorm Bopha is swarmed by supporters and media at Phnom Penh’s municipal police station on Friday night
Boeung Kak lake land rights activist Yorm Bopha is swarmed by supporters and media at Phnom Penh’s municipal police station on Friday night after being released on bail. Heng Chivoan

After prison, Bopha undeterred

Shelving any thoughts that 14 months in prison had deterred her from protesting, Yorm Bopha rushed to the capital’s Borei Keila community yesterday morning to try to stop authorities from forcing evictees from an abandoned building.

Bopha was one of about 10 Boeung Kak activists called on to help after military police and security guards tried to remove a number of families from a building they once lived in, resulting in a disabled man being dragged out, villagers said.

“When we had heard, we went straight there,” said Bopha, who was released on bail from prison on Friday. “We told police to stop ejecting them from the building and offer them a solution first.

“There were many of us there, so police allowed them to stay inside temporarily.”

Borei Keila evictee Tim Sakmony, 65, said a group of military police and security guards dragged her son, Uon Kang Pinith, a disabled 47-year-old recyclables collector, out of the empty building after he had joined a number of families seeking shelter inside.

“His recyclables were getting stolen downstairs, so he tried to take them up there. But they dragged and pushed him out of the building.”

The officers then left Borei Keila, in the capital’s Prampi Makara district, threatening to return later to remove the other evictees, Sakmony said. As of last night, the families were still staying on the first floor.

It’s been almost two years since hundreds of residents were violently evicted from their homes at the site.

Developer Phan Imex had agreed to build 10 high-rise buildings to house more than 1,700 families in exchange for the land on which their houses lay. However, the company built only eight of the 10 high-rises and relocated those who missed out to the squalor of relocation sites far from the capital.

Those who refused relocation have lived in tents behind the eight buildings since.

After heavy rain on Friday and Saturday, the ground on which the evictees’ tents are pitched was a mixture of mud and rubbish yesterday. The site, where everyone from small children to the elderly eat, sleep and wash in, stunk of human waste.

“Living here is getting worse because of the disgusting smell,” Sakmony said. “We are busy protesting, so we don’t have enough time to make money to buy food.”

Following her release from PJ prison on Friday evening, Bopha pledged to “struggle until she died” to keep protesting for the rights of communities such as Boeung Kak and Borei Keila.

“Even though . . . I face being arrested again, I will keep joining peaceful demonstrations to defend our rights.”

Bopha – who also joined a protest at a pagoda in Russey Keo district yesterday – said that before releasing her, authorities had warned her not to protest with fellow Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny.

“I will not stop. I need to find justice for myself and other communities,” she said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court sent her case back to the Appeal Court for a retrial.

“Even though the Supreme Court is releasing me, they still consider me guilty,” she said after the hearing. “I’m scared they will arrest me again – just like they did with Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun,” she added, referring to the two men wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of union leader Chea Vichea.

The activist was arrested in September last year, accused of ordering her brothers to beat two motodops with an axe and screwdriver at Boeung Kak.

She was sentenced to three years in prison, a term reduced to two years on appeal in June.

Bopha’s husband, Lous Sakhorn, 57, was convicted on the same charge, but his sentence was suspended.

Rights groups have called allegations against both of them baseless and aimed at silencing their community.

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