The Supreme Court has ordered the release of Boeung Kak land activist Yorm Bopha – but only on bail – after ruling that her case should be sent back to the Court of Appeal for a retrial.
Khem Pon, one of five judges presiding over Bopha’s appeal, said the appellate body, which heard the case in June, did not address some of the evidence presented.
“The Supreme Court moves this criminal complaint back to the Appeal Court for further investigation and a retrial.”
Hundreds of Bopha’s supporters, many from the Boeung Kak community, joined with monks outside the Supreme Court for the hearing.
After little more than two hours of testimony and judges’ deliberation, Bopha walked from court to an awaiting prison van and the cheers of the ecstatic crowd on the streets outside.
Her own feelings, however, were mixed.
“Even though the Supreme Court is releasing me, they still consider me guilty. I’m scared they will arrest me again – just like they did with Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun,” she said, referring to the two men wrongly imprisoned over the murder of union leader Chea Vichea.
“The Supreme Court should have dropped the charges against me.”
Bopha was arrested in September of last year and accused of ordering her two brothers to beat two motodops at Boeung Kak with an axe and screwdriver. She was sentenced in December to three years in prison. Rights groups say the charges are baseless.
Bopha’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, said after the hearing that the Supreme Court had not specified when the case would be reheard.
“But she will be released on bail today.”
Speaking outside the court, Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, welcomed Bopha’s release.
“But we’re disappointed this whole saga is continuing,” he said. “She should never have been arrested in the first place. She shouldn’t have spent any time in prison.… This case is symbolic of a trend where human rights defenders are a target for their legitimate work.”
But E Sophors, president of motodops group the Cambodia Confederation Development Association, said the court had given the complainants, motodops Vath Thaiseng and Nget Chet, no justice.
“The Supreme Court did not order the suspects to pay compensation or uphold [Bopha’s] prison sentence,” he said. “But when the authorities … arrest Bopha’s brothers, everything will become clear. And everybody including local and international NGOs will understand who masterminded the attack.”
Vath Sarath, the father and uncle of the alleged victims, also said the Supreme Court should have demanded compensation be paid.
“The judges have not responded to the victims here. They are the victims of violence.”
In the courtroom earlier, Sunrith, Bopha’s lawyer, said the lower courts had ordered Bopha and her husband, Lous Sakhorn, to pay the motodops $15,000 in compensation.
“But I’ve checked medical bills that the victim gave the court – they totalled about $15,” he said.”