Urgent Interventions

Detention of land rights defenders



Cambodia:Latest Detention of Women Land Activists: Rights Groups Call for ImmediateRelease, Condemn Government’s Ongoing Persecution of Human Rights Defenders

(Bangkok, 13September 2012): Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA),Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Human Rights Watch(HRW), the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a jointprogramme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the WorldOrganisation against Torture), WITNESS, Amnesty International and Freedom House call for the immediate release of land and housing rightsactivists, Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony, who were arrested on 4 September and 5September, respectively, on dubious charges. The women appear to be the latesttargets of the Cambodian authorities’ use of seemingly trumped-up criminalcharges to intimidate Cambodia’s human rights defenders and social activists.We urge the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to immediately grant the womenprovisional release. Unless independent and impartial judicial investigationsconducted according to international fair trial standards demonstrate theexistence of sufficient, credible evidence that the women have committed recognizablecriminal offences, the cases against them must be dropped.

Yorm Bopha, long prominent inprotests against forced evictions of residents from the Boeung Kak area ofPhnom Penh, was detained for allegedly assaulting a person who was suspected ofstealing. Bopha has denied the allegations, saying she was not even present atthe scene. She is currently being held in pre-trial detention at Prey Sarprison in Phnom Penh, awaiting judicial investigation for “intentional violencewith aggravating circumstances” under Article 218 of the Cambodian Penal Code.

In a separate case, Tim Sakmony, aleader in protests against forced evictions from Borei Keila, another area ofPhnom Penh was arrested on 5 September 2012. The arrest came after the owner ofBorei Keila developer Phanimex filed a complaint alleging that Sakmony made a“false declaration” in a request for the Phanimex Company to compensate herdisabled son for having failed to provide him with an apartment after hiseviction from Borei Keila in January 2012. Phaminex was originally granted landin Borei Keila conditional upon construction of ten apartment buildings torehouse residents, but has only built eight buildings. Sakmony is also beingheld in pre-trial detention at Prey Sar prison, pending judicial investigationfor making a “false declaration to a public body forthe purpose of obtaining an allowance, a payment or any unlawful advantage”under Article 633 of the Cambodian Penal Code.

The pre-trial detention of the twowomen is unwarranted under Cambodian law. The Cambodian Code of CriminalProcedure, consistent with international human rights law, states that pre-trialdetention is to be used only in exceptional circumstances, such as to stopanother offence from occurring, to prevent harassment of witnesses or victims,to preclude collusion among accomplices, to preserve evidence, to protectpublic order, or to guarantee the presence and/or security of the accused –none of which seems reasonably applicable to the cases of Bopha or Sakmony.

In view of the Cambodianauthorities’ established record of abuse of the law and misuse of the courts topersecute political opponents, social activists and human rights defenders fortheir legitimate exercise of basic human rights, we are concerned that the legal actions against Bopha and Sakmony were very likelymotivated by their involvement in protests and campaigns on behalf of the landand housing rights of the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities. The latestcases of Bopha and Sakmony appear to extend and broaden the persecution of landactivists highlighted by other cases in recent months. On 22 May 2012, 13 womenactivists from Boeung Kak were arbitrarily and violently arrested while holdinga peaceful protest at the development site affecting their community. The 13women, all mothers or grandmothers, were charged, tried, convicted andsentenced to lengthy prison terms on baseless charges in a three-hour summarytrial on 24 May. While on 15 July 2012, Mam Sonando, owner of independent radiostation Beehive, was arrested anddetained on trumped-up charges of being the ringleader of a supposed“secessionist movement” by a community involved in a land dispute in Kratieprovince. His Trial began on 11 September and is ongoing.


· John Liu, East AsiaProgramme Officer, FORUM-ASIA, +6680.2828.610,

· Mary McGuire,Senior Communication Manager, FREEDOM HOUSE, +1.202.747.7035,

· Ruppert Abbot,Asia Researcher – Cambodia, laos, Viet Nam- AsiaPacific Programme, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, +855(0)17 500 778.

· Ryan Schlief,Program Manager, WITNESS, +1.718.307.9786,

· The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders(FIDH-OMCT), Arthur Manet, FIDH, : +33 1 43 55 25 18, and Isabelle Scherer, OMCT, : +41 22 809 49 39

· Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH - +66-85-060-8406,

· Kate Lappin,Regional Coordinator, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, APWLD,