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Cambodian women jailed for protesting against forced eviction freed

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Karen Whiteley
WVoN co-editor 

Thirteen Cambodian women jailed for protesting against their eviction from their homes have been released by a Cambodian Appeals Court.

The women, members of the League of Boeung Kak Women Struggling for Housing Rights, were arrested following protests in Phnom Penh against the forced eviction of their community from land being cleared to make way for private developments.

Most of the women were sentenced to two and a half years in jail for illegally obtaining land and inciting others to illegally obtain land. Their trial was largely regarded as a farce and widely criticised by human rights groups.

Four of the women arrested began a hunger strike whilst in prison.

Although the women’s convictions were upheld by the court, their sentences were reduced because of time already served, leading to their immediate release.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the prison to greet the women, but were joined by around 300 police who were also deployed. Human rights groups said at least a dozen people were hurt in clashes between the two groups.

Such clashes are increasingly common. Conflict over land rights is regarded by many as Cambodia’s most pressing human rights issue.

Those involved in the protests say the authorities are increasingly cracking down on dissent, with deadly force often being used by police both during forced evictions and the protests against them. Land grabbing is often underpinned by corruption amongst Cambodian officials.

Whilst welcoming the news of their release, human rights groups expressed dismay that the women’s convictions were not overturned.

Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher, Rupert Abbott said: ‘We are delighted that the 13 women will be released and reunited with their families and community.

‘Cambodia’s Appeal Court should have overturned the women’s convictions, not merely suspend the remainder of their sentences,’ said Abbott.

‘The charges against the women were baseless, and their original trial was grossly unfair.’

Abbott’s sentiments were echoed by local human rights organisations.

Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the Cambodia League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, said: ‘I thank the Court of Appeal for its decision to free these 13 people, but I am disappointed because they did not do anything wrong and were charged.’

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