Lous Sakhorn (in blue shirt) leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court with other villagers from the Boeung Kak lake community yesterday following his release. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Prominent Boeung Kak villager and protester Yorm Bopha was yesterday jailed in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, after she and her husband – en route to check for their names on a voting register – were pounced on by police in plain clothes in what her husband claims was a set-up.
Outside a building housing Srah Chork commune’s electoral roll, 29-year-old Bopha and her 56-year-old husband Lous Sakhorn were arrested at about 9am by 10 policemen, who shoved them into an unmarked car and sped away, according to witness Doung Kea.
About 100 villagers who gathered outside Daun Penh police station maintained they had not been informed of an August 29 arrest warrant handed down by Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Te Samnag – a response to an alleged act of intentional violence committed on August 7.
“The accused suspects escaped after the court issued the warrant… to ensure the suspects are judged fully they must be arrested,” Samnag told the Post.
While her husband was released at about 3pm, Bopha was ushered away to Prey Sar prison to await her trial for Article 218: intentional violence.
Sakhorn said he and his wife had never received the warrant and a Srah Chork police officer had phoned them several days ago, asking them to check their names on the electoral roll.
“When we arrived, they arrested us without any official documentation … they then accused us of leading people to fight authorities,” he said.
He said that at 11am he asked to call his neighbour to collect his children from school, but was denied.
Bopha was a vocal presence at protests for the Boeung Kak 13, a group of women arrested during May 22 eviction protests. They were charged two days later with disputing authority and trespassing on land awarded to ruling Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin’s development firm Shukaku and sentenced to between one and two and a half years in prison.
The women were released on June 27 but still carry the burden of guilty convictions.
Tep Vanny, one of the Boeung Kak 13, said the latest arrests were an obvious attempt to threaten their recent calls for the demarcation of 12.44 hectares of land that Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to them just over one year ago.
Housing Rights Task Force communication official Long Kim Heang said the arrest and warrant were a new, illegal tactic to scare Boeung Kak women into silence.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party MP Mu Sochua said she would act immediately against the arrest and would again lobby US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene.
“This is a psychological and physical threat – this kind of pressure should not be mounted on a victim,” she said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Claire Knox at [email protected]