Cambodia pardons jailed female land rights activists

Agence France-Presse
Cambodia pardons jailed female land rights activists

AFP

King Norodom Sihamoni grants a royal pardon to the activists – including a 75-year-old woman known locally as 'Mommy'

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Ten female Cambodian land activists jailed over protests last year have been pardoned and released from prison, a rights group said Sunday, April 12, following an outcry over their arrests.

King Norodom Sihamoni granted a royal pardon to the activists – including a 75-year-old woman known locally as “Mommy” – who were released Saturday, April 11, said Am Sam Ath of rights group Licadho, which provided legal assistance to the women.

“We regret that they made no mistake but were convicted and jailed,” he told Agence France-Presse.

In November the 10 women and a defrocked Buddhist monk were each sentenced to a year in prison for blocking traffic or obstructing the work of officials during protests in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia’s Appeal Court later reduced eight of their jail terms to 10 months while the sentence for the eldest campaigner was cut to six months. The one-year sentences for prominent rights activist Tep Vanny and the monk were upheld.

Vanny told Agence France-Presse she was happy to see her family again now the “fake convictions” had been dropped but vowed to continue campaigning.

“We should not have been jailed for even a minute. We did not commit any wrongdoing… We just tried to protect our rights,” she said.

Ath told Agence France-Presse the monk was also granted a royal pardon but faces another court case and may be released on bail Monday.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Most of the activists are from the few dozen families remaining in the capital’s Boeung Kak neighborhood – an area from which about 4,000 families were forcibly evicted to make way for a real-estate development. 

Seven of the women were arrested after protesting against the routine flooding their community has suffered since the area’s lake was filled with sand, with the other four activists sentenced over later demonstrations for the first seven’s release.

Rights groups criticized their convictions as an attempt to stifle legitimate protest.

Land evictions are one of the foremost human rights issues in Cambodia, with residents’ claims over land routinely ignored and protests frequently facing violent crackdowns by authorities.

The communist Khmer Rouge abolished land ownership during its 1975-1979 rule and many legal documents were lost during the period, complicating land claims today. – Rappler.com

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