The legal battle of 13 land rights activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood ended on Wednesday with the Supreme Court upholding their conviction for aggravated obstruction of public officials and illegal occupation.
“The Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of the defendants’ lawyer and upheld the verdict of the Court of Appeal,” Judge Soeng Panhavuth told the court.
The women were arrested near Boeng Kak in May 2012 when security forces attempted to disperse them during a protest over the eviction of nearly 3,000 families from the area to make way for a CPP senator’s development project.
The “Boeng Kak 13” were swiftly charged and jailed, but released a month later when the Appeal Court—amid intense local and international pressure—upheld the conviction but reduced their sentences to time served.
Video footage of the incident shows the women singing a protest song while surrounded by police and security guards before a guard jostles a woman’s arm and a shoving match breaks out.
Judge Panhavuth rejected the defendants’ claims that they did not fight with police while attempting to rebuild a house on the contested land, explaining that witnesses called by City Hall lawyers had given testimony supporting the lower court decisions.
“According to the testimony of Kong Sitha, Yin Song and Mao Mou, the 13 defendants were preparing to build a house with wooden poles and when authorities came to stop them they scuffled with police,” he said, referring to witnesses who said the women were guilty.
Hoping to have their names cleared by the high court, the women and their supporters were incensed by the verdict on Wednesday.
Informed of the result, a crowd of about 50 protesters screamed for justice, while the defendants berated court officials for protecting those with power.
“You deserve to vanish for what you have done,” said Song Sreyleap upon leaving the courtroom. “[The Court] has protected the corrupt people who have money.”
Defendant Bouv Sorphea said the group would request a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni.
“We will submit a letter soon asking for a royal pardon from the king to clear us of guilt because we have done nothing wrong,” she said.