Jail Sentence for Anti-Eviction Activist Upheld

The Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the guilty verdict for anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, but reduced her sentence from three- to two-years imprisonment, of which one year was suspended.

The ruling means that Ms. Bopha will not be released until late 2014. 

Ahead of the court hearing, some 400 supporters protested in front of the Appeal Court demanding the release of Ms. Bopha, who was sentenced last year along with her husband, Luos Sakhorn, and her two brothers, Yorm Kanlong and Yorm Seth, for their alleged role in the assault of two tuk-tuk drivers.

Supporters and human rights groups believe that Ms. Bopha was targeted for arrest because of her activism against land evictions in the city’s contentious Boeng Kak lake area.

“I decide to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict with the exception that of her three-year jail term, Ms. Bopha is ordered to serve only two years in prison,” presiding Judge Taing Sunlay said Friday, adding that he had changed the charge against Ms. Bopha from intentional violence with aggravating circumstances to masterminding the assault.

Judge Sunlay also lowered the amount of money in damages that Ms. Bopha and her co-accused must pay to the plaintiffs in the case.

“The four defendants are ordered to pay the two victims 20 million riel compensation, instead of 60 million riel,” or about $15,000, Judge Sunlay said.

Upon hearing the judge’s verdict, Ms. Bopha, a 29-year-old mother of a 9-year-old boy, broke out in tears and screamed that the court was unjust.

“The judge’s decisions is very unjust, because I did not commit the crime. Why do the judges still make unjust decisions?” she cried.

Her husband, Mr. Sakhorn, said that his wife would appeal the ruling.

“We will appeal to the Supreme Court, even though we know the Cambodian court system will not find justice for us,” he said.

Ms. Bopha, who was arrested in September, had asked to be released on the grounds that she was not involved in the attack, and that she needs to take care of her son.

The majority of the hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the courthouse dispersed after Ms. Bopha was transported back to prison following her hearing, but dozens remained and attempted to march toward Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house opposite Independence Monument only to be stopped by riot police near the Ministry of Justice.

“Police fought the protesters when they were trying to go to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho.

“Five protesters were knocked unconscious and four were sent to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital for treatment,” he said, adding that a sixth protester was struck on the back, leaving her slightly injured.

Police could not be contacted for comment.

Commenting on the court’s ruling, supporters of Ms. Bopha from the Boeng Kak lake area said they would continue to demonstrate for her release.

“We will continue to protest because we want people in the world to understand the courts are corrupt,” said Keo Bopha, one of the Boeng Kak protesters.

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