Yorm Bopha (C) with her son at the Supreme Court
in Phnom Penh, March 27, 2013.
The Cambodian Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a jailed land rights
activist's appeal to be released on bail, drawing criticism from rights
groups who said the whole case smacked of political interference and
should be thrown out.
Yorm Bopha, who had championed the right to
housing for residents forcibly evicted from the capital Phnom Penh’s
former Boeung Kak Lake neighborhood, had cited health and family reasons
to be out of jail pending her appeal on a conviction but presiding
judge Khim Ponn The said there was no basis for her application.
200 villagers protested outside of the court, burning a scale of
justice replica, as Yorm Bopha was taken to prison. They yelled,
"Corrupt court, hear the cry of villagers.”
Yorm Bopha, 29, was
ordered jailed for three years by a municipal court which convicted her
in December for committing “intentional violence" in connection with the
beating of a suspected thief. Human rights groups said she had been
targeted for her activism.
She told reporters in court that she
was suffering from heart and respiratory problems and had to take care
of her young child. Her husband, following a recent beating by the
police, is unable to work.
“I am having heart, respiratory, and
stomach issues,” she said. “I have many responsibilities, defending my
family and land. If the court wants to see real justice, I believe that I
should be released."
"But the Boeung Kak community and I will continue to struggle forever and we will not be defeated," she said.
rights groups Licadho, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, Equitable Cambodia, and
the Community Legal Education Centre in a joint statement called on the
judiciary to set a date for Yorm Bopha’s appeal against the conviction
and for "an end to political interference in this case, and more
generally the court system."
"The Supreme Court’s ruling comes as
no surprise," they said, adding that just over a week before Yorm
Bopha’s appearance at the court, Prime Minister Hun Sen had publicly
stated in a televised speech that her case had nothing to do with land
issues and that she instead had acted “violently and unjustly in the
eyes of the government."
"In a judicial system renowned for its
political obedience, it's impossible to see the Prime Minister's comment
as harmless," the statement said.
Yorm Bopha has now spent 204 days in jail since her initial detention in early September 2012.
“Bopha is not the one to have acted unjustly here,” said Eang Vuthy, a representative of Equitable Cambodia.
“Back at the Municipal Court in December 2012, no testimony was
presented in support of her guilt. Not a single witness, whether from
the prosecution or the defence, at any point stated Bopha had engaged in
“The procedural and substantive flaws in
Bopha’s original trial were so dramatic, so blatant, that it’s
impossible to conclude that this conviction isn’t politically
motivated,” said Licadho Director Naly Pilorge.
“How else do you explain a conviction for ‘intentional violence’ against a person who never laid a finger on anyone?”
denial of bail for Yorm Bopha came just a week before her fellow Boeung
Kak community activist Tep Vanny is due to be honored by U.S. Vice
President Joe Biden and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
She is one of five honorees to receive the 2013 Global Leadership Award conferred by the organization Vital Voice.