Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Less attention for jailed activists



Less attention for jailed activists

Boeung Kak Lake activists and supporters
Boeung Kak Lake activists and supporters protest along Phnom Penh’s riverside in June 2012 to support imprisoned members of their community. Though 15 were ultimately arrested, only 13 were tried. Meng Kimlong

Less attention for jailed activists

Eleven activists imprisoned 24 hours after their arrests last month have now been in Prey Sar prison longer than the 13 Boeung Kak lake activists jailed in similar circumstances in 2012.

Five of the current prisoners were among the “Boeung Kak 13”, and the two cases are remarkably similar. In both incidents, the accused were arrested for protesting and tried in court almost immediately.

However, by this time in the 2012 case – about five weeks after trial – the 13 women had been freed on appeal. Protests had been impassioned, and the women’s plight resonated with an overseas audience, most notably then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who called for their release.

Some NGO workers have noticed a different response to the arrest of the Tep Vanny-led group this time around.

Am Sam Ath, technical adviser for rights group Licadho, said many other communities locked in land disputes were too busy meeting and discussing their own problems to get strongly involved in a freedom campaign.

“They do not have enough time to get involved and protest for the authorities to release the [activists],” he said.

Ee Sarom, executive director of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), said the main land-rights NGOs that lobbied for the women’s release two years ago “are still working the same”. But others with good intentions, he said, were distracted by their own projects and financial situations as the year drew to an end and funding from donors was reviewed.

On the streets, Sarom added, some supporters have avoided protests, deterred by the arbitrary arrests and political tensions that have lingered since last year’s elections.

“But there are many more monks involved. And they plan more action,” he said.

The media, too, have covered this case differently. In 2012, the Post published at least 23 stories directly related to the 13 women during their time in prison, compared with only about 10 this year.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said development partners needed to make more noise and “demand the eleven’s release”.

“It is difficult to understand why [the] partners don’t say and do more in these situations – perhaps it’s because they think the government won’t listen or that they will lose influence in other areas, such as trade,” he said.

While no major political figures from outside have weighed in, several European delegates have voiced concerns to Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, while UN rights envoy Surya Subedi has also been critical of the arrests.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of any other instances of foreign delegates raising the matter.

Regardless of who is supporting them, the activists want appeal dates set.

Their lawyer, San Sokunthear, said she recently met with an Appeal Court judge who said he was waiting for the prosecutor to conclude his inquiries.

“When the prosecutor is done, he will take measures for a date to be set,” she said.

Neither official could be reached yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and