Cambodia: Crackdown on free speech worsens as 13 female land activists arrested
|Publication Date||28 May 2012|
|Cite as||Article 19, Cambodia: Crackdown on free speech worsens as 13 female land activists arrested, 28 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2cb211306.html [accessed 24 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Thirteen women activists from the forcibly evicted Phnom Penh community of Boeung Kak Lake were arrested on Thursday 24 May 2012 in what is turning out to be a string of harsh crackdowns on free speech since the start of this year. ARTICLE 19 is alarmed over the escalated use of violence and legal threats by those in power to silence their critics, and calls for the immediate release of the thirteen Boeung Kak women.
On 24 May 2012, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted the thirteen women, including one 72-year old, for illegally obtaining land and inciting others to illegally obtain land. Thousands of people living in the vicinity of the Boeung Kak Lake are being forcibly evicted to make way for high rise buildings and shopping centres, one of the most contentious development projects in Cambodia. The convicted women are the leaders of their evicted community, and have previously been met with numerous threats and arrests for their relentless activism. They were arrested whilst attempting to rebuild homes in their neighbourhood of Boeung Kak Lake, and while staging a peaceful demonstration. Twelve of the women received a sentence of 2 to 2.5 years in prison, with one woman receiving a year's imprisonment.
This large-scale arrest and conviction follows the death of a 14-year-old girl who was shot and killed during an eviction protest last week. Three weeks before her death, Cambodia's leading environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot and killed with an AK-47 as he was leading two journalists to document illegal logging. There have been approximately 8 incidents of shootings and violence directed towards activists in the last five months.
"These women are experiencing a cycle of gross injustices. First they lose their homes and security in an incredibly violent manner, and the second they speak out, they and their families are threatened. Now that they are arrested, their communities are left shattered and their children are without their mothers," says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. "How the Cambodian government can justify such actions to its own people is inconceivable. The trend of shootings and arrests in the past five months sadly indicate that Cambodia's human rights situation is on a backslide."
In a meeting with the Boeung Kak women in January 2012, one of the activists who is now amongst the thirteen arrested told ARTICLE 19, "I protest because I care about my children. We are united. If one person is arrested, we are all arrested. If one is charged, then we all are charged. All of us in the evicted community share the same problems."
The Cambodian government's urban development plans are planned and executed without genuine consultation with affected communities, and information given to these families on eviction and resettlement plans are often incomplete and inaccurate. The families are left without sufficient information to participate in the decisions that directly affect their livelihoods, and the lack of adequate notice prevents them from challenging the evictions to start. It is the duty of the Cambodian government to protect its most vulnerable groups, but in stark contrast, the government is instead robbing its citizens of their homes and subsequently punishing them for voicing their concerns.
ARTICLE19 calls for the immediate release of all thirteen female Boeung Kak activists, and for all their charges to be dropped. ARTICLE 19 also calls on the Cambodian government to cease all forms of intimidation and harassment against these evicted communities, and their representatives, and to allow for the people to gather and peacefully demonstrate against the evictions. Furthermore, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Cambodian government to investigate the killings of the 14-year-old girl and Chut Wutty, and to bring all perpetrators to justice.