Last November, seven women from capital Phnom Penh’s restive Boeung Kak neighborhood were jailed for a year for allegedly obstructing traffic during a protest against flooding in the area a day earlier. Around 3,000 families had been evicted from the community to make way for a huge development project.
Outside the Nov. 11 hearing, three more women and a human rights activist monk were arrested and a day later, jailed for the same length of time -- this time for obstructing a public official.
Local rights group Licadho said in a statement Monday morning that the first case saw the prison sentences of five of the seven women reduced to 10 months and that of another to six months. While one had her one-year sentence upheld, all were handed reduced fines of $250 or $375 – rather than the original $500.
The three women in the second case had their sentences reduced to 10 months in prison, with fines of $375 each, while Seung Hai -- the Buddhist monk -- had his one-year prison sentence and conviction upheld.
Loun Sovath, one of the country’s leading activist monks, told The Anadolu Agency on Monday that the decision was regrettably unsurprising.
“Today was very bad, but it is the tradition of the court in Cambodia to act like this,” he said by telephone.
“The poor people, land activists and human rights defenders are always accused or arrested by the court… and the powerful and rich men who are corrupt or do criminal acts, the court never accuses or arrests them,” he said of the widespread impunity across the Cambodian judicial system.
Rights group Licadho Canada has denounced the decision, writing on Twitter that the court system would be “ruining children’s lives for decades.”
The Phnom Penh Post reported Monday that the 16-year-old son of Nong Sreng, one of the woman handed a 10-month sentence, was devastated by the outcome.
“This is injustice for my mother. She has not done anything wrong. She just protested to demand that City Hall intervene to help pump sewage water [out of our houses],” the Post quoted him as saying.
The women are being detained at Correctional Centre 1, the women’s section of the Prey Sar Prison outside Phnom Penh.