Cambodia’s Court of Appeals on Friday reduced the prison term of a Phnom Penh housing rights activist but upheld her conviction in a decision her lawyer said would be appealed.
Yorm Bopha, a campaigner for the rights of evictees from the city’s Boeung Kak Lake community, had one year suspended of her original three-year sentence on charges critics say have been manufactured to silence her.
The 29-year-old activist, who has denied the charges of “intentional violence" leveled against her in connection with a skirmish that broke out near her home last year, will not accept the decision and will take her case to the Supreme Court, her lawyer Chan Socheat told RFA’s Khmer Service after the hearing.
He said that although Friday’s decision will allow her to leave prison earlier than the original sentence, the verdict is still unfair because there was no evidence she had committed a crime.
"The court couldn't link the crime to any suspects," he said.
Yorm Bopha was arrested in September last year in connection with the beating of a suspected thief.
She has been named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience and local rights groups have said her case smacks of political interference and should be thrown out.
Presiding Judge Taing Sun Lay announced the verdict after a five-hour hearing. Yorm Bopha still has to pay a 20 million riel (U.S. 5,000) fine, which was part of the original sentence.
Boeung Kak protesters
Boeung Kak evictees, unhappy with the verdict, demonstrated near Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence, calling on him to help them get her released.
The protesters were stopped by police as they marched in the rain toward the residence, though no one was injured in the confrontation. They did not receive a response from Hun Sen.
Activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities have staged regular protests over their land disputes over the past several years since plans emerged for them to be relocated to make way for new commercial developments.
Last month, city officials said the city’s newly appointed governor Pa Socheatvong would re-examine the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila land disputes that rocked his predecessor’s term, but would not intervene in Yorm Bopha’s case as her sentence was up to the courts.
Local rights groups say Yorm Bopha has been targeted for her activism since she emerged at the forefront of a campaign for the release of 13 Boueng Kak women imprisoned last year.
Reported by Tin Zakariya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.