About 80 housing rights activists and their children gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to call for First Lady Michelle Obama to intervene to secure the release of their relatives from prison.
Ms. Obama, who is married to U.S. President Barack Obama, is scheduled to visit Siem Reap City this weekend, and the group said she should call on the government officials she meets to overturn the sentences of jailed fellow activists.
“All these children need their mothers and they want to live in harmony just like you,” said Bov Sorphea of the beleaguered Boeng Kak community, shortly after the group handed over a petition to an embassy official.
“It is an injustice that the women from Boeng Kak just protested to make demands about pumping the flooded waters out of their houses, but were imprisoned.”
“Our petition wants Mrs. Michelle Obama to intervene to secure the release of land activists from Boeng Kak and Thma Kol [another Phnom Penh community] and the monks, who were unjustly imprisoned,” Ms. Sorphea said.
In November, seven activists from Boeng Kak were sentenced to a year in prison the day after being arrested for obstructing traffic for placing a bed in the middle of Monivong Boulevard to protest the flooding of their homes.
Four more people were arrested while protesting outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court during that hearing, and were then also sentenced to a year in jail the following day on charges of obstructing public officials.
Eng Sokha, 27, the granddaughter of 75-year-old jailed activist Nget Khun, said the petitioners hoped Ms. Obama would be moved by the injustice of the sentences, which were reduced on appeal in nine of the cases. “Putting them in prison for sentences between half a year and a year is an injustice for them, as they just demanded that they [city officials] help them remove the sewage from their houses,” she said.
“We believe that Michelle Obama will intervene to release them because she is the wife of the president of a superpower country, therefore she can put pressure on the government to release them.”