Sao Saroeun, 71, (centre) speaks to reporters yesterday after being released from police custody on Friday. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post
One of the two Boeung Kak lake residents released on bail from Prey Sar prison on Friday is prepared to be a witness in the appeal trial of the 13 women convicted and sent to jail last month – but only if he is invited to be, he said yesterday.
Sao Sareoun, 71, and Ly Channary were released on the condition they report to police every two weeks and do not change their addresses.
Sao Sareoun, who was arrested outside the 13 women’s trial on May 24 as he tried to give evidence, said he was willing to testify in next Wednesday’s hearing at the Appeal Court, but did not want to find himself in more trouble by doing so.
“I will do this if their defence lawyer wants me to,” he said. “I want to request the court and all levels of the authorities to take pity on the 13 Boeung Kak women.”
The women were arrested at Boeung Kak on May 22 as protesters tried to rebuild a house on land cleared to make way for a $79 million development by Shukaku, a company headed by CPP senator Lao Meng Khin.
They were charged two days later with disputing authority and trespassing, and were tried, convicted and sentenced in three hours without a lawyer or any witnesses.
Sao Sareoun said he was arrested when he tried to give the court a document that showed some evictees had not received either a land title or compensation.
Ly Channary was also arrested outside the court, and the pair were charged with the same offences as the 13 women.
“I don’t understand why the authorities arrested me and accused me,” Sao Sareoun said.
During his imprisonment in Prey Sar’s Correctional Centre I, he spent time living with 19 other people in a room that was barely seven square metres in size, he said.
“It was tough. The other prisoners took pity on me, though, because of my age. They let me sleep,” Sao Sareoun said.
Harm Sunrith, the lawyer for the 13 Boeung Kak women, did not say whether he would call on Sao Sareoun to give evidence, adding that he had not yet been formally told of the women’s appeal date.
“But we hope, and believe, the Appeal Court will drop the case and release my 13 defendants,” he said.
Seng Sy Vutha, deputy director of the Appeal Court, said yesterday the women’s hearing would be held on June 27 at 8:30am.
“For the case of the 13 Boeung Kak women, our court pays attention very much,” Seng Sy Vutha said.
The Ministry of Justice wrote to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 31, asking it to re-examine the case against the women.
The case is also receiving global attention. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at a meeting in Washington last week that the 13 women’s release would be “a sign of support for freedom of expression”.
Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha, who said after the trial on May 24 that the government had nothing to do with the court’s decision, declined to comment yesterday.
Am Sam Ath, technical adviser with the rights group Licadho, welcomed Ly Channary and Sao Sareoun’s release and encouraged the court to take it a step further and drop the charges against them.
Bo Chhorvy, a representative of the protesters in the Boeung Kak community, told the Post yesterday six of the 13 women prisoners who had been on a hunger strike had ended it with the release of Ly Channary and Sao Sareoun.
“They ate the beef and shellfish that I bought to give them, and they were smiling,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]