Inclusive Development International welcomes the release from prison of 13 women from Boeung Kak lake, Phnom Penh, following a ruling by the Appeals Court on June 27 that upheld the convictions but reduced their sentences to time already served. On May 22nd the land rights activists were arrested during a peaceful protest, convicted on baseless charges and sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment after a hearing absent of any semblance of due process. On appeal, the court suspended the remaining part of the sentences citing compassionate grounds to justify their early release. While the appeal court failed to overturn the spurious convictions, demonstrating, once again, political interference in the Cambodian courts, the release of the women is nonetheless an incredible victory for the local and global campaign to “Free the 15!”
Like the trial judge on May 24, the appeal court paid no attention to the facts or the law; however, this was the Cambodian Government’s way of saving face while ceding to the demands of an incredibly effective community-led campaign, supported by allies all over the world. The Boeung Kak community and friends in Cambodia held over a dozen solidarity protest actions to Free the 15 in the past month, despite ongoing police violence and risk of more arrests. Their voices of solidarity were echoed from Istanbul to Timor Leste, from the People’s Summit in Rio to the gates of the Cambodian embassy in Seoul. They were heard and acknowledged by the US Secretary of State and the President of the World Bank. The convergence of pressure from the local to the global led to this victory.
As we celebrate the release of these human rights defenders, we should not be forgot that charges are still pending against the two community representatives who were arrested outside the courthouse on May 24, and the 13 women remain at risk of re-arrest given that their convictions were upheld. The appeal hearing was also marred by severe police violence against Boeung Kak community members on their way to the court to support the jailed women. Given the high-profile nature of the case, the Government of Cambodia has laid bare on the world stage its willingness to utilize its security forces and judicial system to suppress the basic freedoms of its citizens.
Now that the Boeung Kak women are free from imprisonment, they return to their struggle to secure their land and housing rights. At IDI, we will work side by side with them to translate the energy and momentum of the campaign to Free the 15 into an even stronger campaign to achieve their long-standing goal to end forced evictions, secure their land rights and provide reparations to the 3,500 families who have been displaced.