Land rights activists Tim Sakmony (2nd L) and Yorm Bopha (2nd R) arrive at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Celebrations were restrained and emotions mixed outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court last night after Borei Keila grandmother Tim Sakmony was granted release and the case of fellow land rights activist Yorm Bopha was adjourned until this morning.
Sakmony left Prey Sar prison last night after the judge in her four-hour trial, Kim Dany, found her guilty of the charge against her and gave her a suspended six-month prison term, which includes time served since September.
“Parties who are not happy with this verdict have up to one month to appeal,” Dany said.
Sakmony, 65, was convicted of making a false declaration in an attempt to gain an apartment at Borei Keila for her disabled son – a charge her supporters and rights groups say was brought against her because of her frequent protesting.
In yesterday’s trial – which ran simultaneously with Bopha’s – Sakmony protested her innocence.
“I request the court to drop the charge against me, because if I am convicted, no one will feed and take care of my children and grandchildren,” she said.
Borei Keila representative Ath Samnang welcomed the decision to release the grandmother, who was arrested on September 5 – a day after Bopha.
“However, I still think this decision does not provide full justice to poor Borei Keila residents... because we have not yet got compensation from the company [developer Phan Imex],” she said.
Before her arrest, Sakmony, a widow whose house was torn down during a mass eviction on January 3, was living under a staircase at Borei Keila with her son and young grandchildren.
Sakmony’s defence lawyer, Yin Savath, told the Post she was on her way back there last night.
Speaking outside the court, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said Sakmony should not have spent a day inside prison.
“Of course we feel very relieved for Sakmony tonight, but we still have Bopha and other people who are confronting a justice system that is a guessing game,” she said.
“You’re now at the mercy of the system. It’s not what we want. We want a system where everyone is equal.”
On the opposite side of the building, the judge in Bopha’s trial, Sus Samarth, adjourned the intentional violence case against the Boeung Kak lake mother and her husband, Lous Sakhon, until this morning, after the alleged victims’ lawyer requested the charges be upgraded to attempted murder.
“Her intention was to kill my clients,” Neang Hai said.
Bopha, 29, who has also been detained in Prey Sar since her arrest, and Sakhon, 56, who was released after being charged, were questioned for an hour about an alleged axe attack on motodops Nget Chet, 28, and his cousin Vath Thaiseng, 24, at Boeung Kak’s Village 22 on August 7.
The men allege Bopha ordered Sakhon and Bopha’s two brothers to attack them.
“I reject all the accusations against me,” Bopha said. “I just walked out to see what was happening when I heard a scream for help. All of a sudden, they were accusing me of attacking them.”
The victims, whose supporters stood outside holding banners with photos purporting to be their head injuries, admitted to drinking rice wine at a guesthouse in Bopha and Sakhon’s village prior to the alleged attack, which they said occurred at 7:10pm.
“We were very drunk, because we drank a litre of rice wine from about 4pm,” Chet said.
Thaiseng, however, said he had begun drinking at 6pm – a remark defence lawyers said contradicted his earlier statement to police and the investigating judge.
“Yorm Bopha and her family chopped me and my friends, accusing us of stealing their car’s mirror. Bopha pointed her finger from the house and her siblings came to chop us.”
Thaiseng, who demanded $10,000 in compensation from Bopha, said he had been seriously injured and would have died if his father and another motodop had not intervened.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, who observed the trial, said he believed the prosecution’s witnesses, which included a young girl, had been used to frame Bopha.
“The answers were given to them. All of them are prepared,” he said.
“It is very, very clear. The 7:10 thing – you’re drunk. You were drinking; both of you. How would you know [it was] 7:10? Nobody drinking is paying that close attention to the time.
“And the two guys who came to rescue them also know the exact time.”
Virak said he was not blaming the victims.
“But I think they have been told, ‘hey, let’s point the finger in a certain direction and you’ll get more compensation and we can support you all the way.’”
If the case against Bopha wasn’t linked to her activism, Virak added, it seemed logical her husband would have been detained for the same amount of time and her brothers investigated.
E Sophors, president of the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association, the motodops’ association calling for Bopha’s imprisonment, had a different view.
“Yorm Bopha masterminded the crime and is responsible for seriously injuring our members,” he said some distance from the court, after police had blocked the street to separate the motodops from the women’s supporters.