On 11 November 2014, seven women land rights defenders Ms Tep Vanny, Ms Nget Khun, Ms Song Sreyleap, Ms Kong Chantha, Ms Pan Chunreth, MsBop Chorvy and Ms Nong Srengand were sentenced by Phnom Penh First Instance Court to one-year imprisonment and a fine on charges of obstructing public traffic after protesting in front of Phnom Penh’s City Hall.
On the morning of 10 November 2014, the day before the protest, the seven women land rights defenders placed a wooden bed in front of Phnom Penh’s City Hall protesting against the repeated flooding of their homes in the Boeung Kak lake area. The land rights defenders demanded that the city authorities clear the surrounding drains immediately. As the activists reported, their homes were flooded with foul-smelling water for many days as a result of Boeung Kak lake being filled in as part of a development project backed by Senator Lao Meng Khin of Cambodia's ruling party. Since 2008, almost 20,000 people have been forcefully evicted from the area in connection with the ongoing development project.
Later the same day, 10 November 2014, the seven land rights defenders were detained by police following their protest in front of City Hall. After spending the night in police custody in Phnom Penh, in the morning of 11 November the activists were brought to Phnom Penh First Instance Court, where they were questioned by the public prosecutor. After the interrogation, the prosecutor charged each of the defenders with obstructing public traffic, according to Article 78 of Cambodia's Traffic Law. Reportedly, no investigation of the alleged traffic violations was carried out.
At 3.30pm on 11 November 2014, the same day as the prosecutor's interrogation, the trial of the detained land rights defenders began. Three hours later, all seven activists, Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Song Sreyleap, Kong Chantha, Pan Chunreth, Bop Chorvy and Nong Srengand, were convicted by Phnom Penh First Instance Court and each received the maximum penalty for the obstruction of public traffic: one-year imprisonment, and a 2 million Cambodian Riel (approx. 400 euro) fine. There is the option to appeal the verdict a month after sentencing, if the prosecutor does not appeal it beforehand.
Five of the imprisoned activists, Nget Khun, Tep Vanny, Song Srey Leap, Kong Chantha, and Phan Chhunreth, were previously convicted two years ago, on 24 May 2012, in relation to their peaceful protests against evictions that were taking place in the Boeung Kak area. In 2012 the court of first instance found the land rights defenders guilty of “obstructing public officials and illegally occupying land” and sentenced them to long-term imprisonment after a three-hour trial. A month later, in June 2012, the Appeals court ruled to reduce their sentences to the time already served in custody but upheld the convictions.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cambodia to:
- Immediately and unconditionally quash the conviction against human rights defenders Ms Tep Vanny, Ms Nget Khun, Ms Song Sreyleap, Ms Kong Chantha, Ms Pan Chunreth, Ms Bop Chorvy and Ms Nong Srengand, and release them from detention, as it believed that the sole motive is their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism in Cambodia;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Cambodia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.