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City Hall’s pipe dream

10 Dec

By: Shane Worrell and May Titthara, Phnom Penh Post, 10 December 2014

A woman and child stand next to a waterlogged road in Phnom Penh’s Srah Chak commune yesterday afternoon. Heng Chivoan

Pipes that City Hall has installed to drain water from part of the capital’s Boeung Kak lake area are too small to prevent serious flooding and could result in the deaths of local residents, a leaked report from developer Shukaku Inc says.

The report, written in August 2013, alleges that the municipality installed drainage pipes along the eastern residential edge of Boeung Kak without properly assessing how much water would drain from adjacent land, especially in the event of a severe rainstorm.

“Loss of life and property could occur if a significant storm occurs in the next few years,” says the report, obtained by the Post> this week.

The report, which refers to the thoroughfare of streets 93, 86 and 70 and includes plans from the municipal Department of Public Works, says that piping already installed and more piping proposed at the time was too small to handle the potential flow.

“Based on the currently installed 1500mm-diameter pipe and the proposed design for an additional 800 meters of 1200mm-diameter pipe to be installed, the finished system will not have sufficient capacity to handle a 5-year storm episode,” it read.

Residential areas east of Street 93 sit about 5 metres below the primary Boeung Kak concession area, the report says.

“These low lying areas are at significant risk for flooding, loss of property, and potential loss of life,” it adds.

According to the report, Shukaku was told “during a face-to-face meeting by referenced sources . . . that the local government and municipality did not prepare any calculations prior to the start of their design and construction work”.

“Without any supporting calculations, they basically made a guess as to what size the drainage pipes should be.”

Shukaku, chaired by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, paid $79 million for a 99-year lease of more than 100 hectares at Boeung Kak in 2007. About 20,000 people have been evicted to make way for a planned commercial and residential project.

The company filled in the lake over the course of more than three years, and remaining families continually report flooding when it rains.

A man examines a pool of water in front of his house in Srah Chak commune yesterday afternoon. Rain from last week has yet to drain from parts of the commune. Heng Chivoan

While City Hall has claimed that Boeung Kak lake was not “playing a role as [a] rainwater reservoir”, Shukaku’s report says that the purpose of the drainage system at the edge of the concession was to “assist with rainwater collection that originally flowed into the closed lake system”.

Shukaku was funding City Hall’s connecting drainage project at a cost of about $246,000, the report says.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche yesterday declined to comment on the report and whether plans had been changed to respond to Shukaku’s concerns of fatal flooding.

“Technical experts are conducting studies on the project with the Shukaku company,” he said. “This issue cannot be solved in only two or three days, they need a long time to do it.”

Sam Piseth, director of the municipal Department of Public Works and Transportation, could not be reached for comment.

Shukaku announced last week that it would begin building its own drainage system at the site this month.

“Despite the efficiency of our drainage system, the rainwater will not be able to flow out effectively unless City Hall improves the external connecting system,” Shukaku spokeswoman Amu Pillay explained in an email to the Post last week. She was out of the country and unavailable for further comment yesterday, while other representatives declined to comment.

Seven Boeung Kak lake activists were arrested last month and imprisoned for one year just 24 hours after a protest outside City Hall in which they complained of constant flooding in their villages.

In houses at the eastern edge of Boeung Kak yesterday, families were still treading carefully around pools of water that remained around – and even inside – their homes from storms last week.

A man was working on part of a drainage pipe that appeared to be on company property and was snaking its way towards the road, seemingly to connect with a public system. He told reporters he “did not know” who his employer was.

A resident holding a small baby nearby said he feared the work would result in his house being flooded more than was already usual.

“My house floods every time it rains,” said Pich Pon, 56. “When it starts raining, I have to prepare my valuables. When there’s a lot of flooding, I go to a guesthouse.”

A few streets east, towards the back of Calmette Hospital, villager Phuon Thong spoke of his challenge when it rains: evacuating dozens of live chickens he raises in his house for the market.

“We have to turn off our electricity . . . and move to stay with family,” he said.

Surrounded by small children, Thong pointed to a metre-high line on his wall to indicate recent water levels.

“City Hall has never told us anything about fixing this problem. We were never flooded before the lake was filled in.”

 

 

Firm Behind Boeng Kak Project Says Land Sale in Doubt

5 Dec

By: Zsombor Peter,The Cambodia Daily, December 5, 2014

The company behind the controversial development of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood says that a pending multimillion-dollar land sale to a Singaporean firm was unlikely to happen due to financial difficulties on the part of the prospective buyer.

In June, the HLH Group announced that its new subsidiary, D’Lotus Development, had agreed to pay $14.9 million for a 1.35-hectare plot of land from Shukaku Inc., a firm owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin.

With the city’s help, Shukaku evicted some 3,000 families from Boeng Kak, many say illegally, to make room for the project. The mass eviction prompted the World Bank to freeze all new lending to the country.

Shortly after HLH went public with the deal on the Singapore stock exchange, the firm’s CEO and executive deputy chairman, Johnny Ong Bee Huat, said he knew nothing of the well-publicized controversy surrounding the piece of land he was preparing to purchase. He said HLH was committed to following all local laws and was conducting a six-month legal review of the deal before deciding whether to make the actual purchase.

Housing rights groups questioned whether Shukaku could even legally sell land it was leasing from the city.

On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Shukaku, Amu Pillay, said for the first time that the land sale was unlikely to materialize, following a review of HLH’s financial records.

“We don’t foresee that that is going to happen because there are some financial matters on their side,” Ms. Pillay said. “We don’t know whether they can afford the project or not.”

And with Shukaku unlikely to sell the land to HLH, she added, “we just have to move on to a more suitable partner.”

HLH declined to comment on the prospects for the deal, but said money was not an issue.

“As an international public listed company, we definitely have the ability in financial aspect to complete any purchase or project,” said Mr. Ong’s personal assistant, Shane Goh, in reply to an email sent to his boss.

“At the meantime,” he said, “we are still waiting for parties [Shukaku] to comply on documentation before we can take further steps…. [T]he ball is not in our court.”

In its announcement to the Singapore bourse in June, HLH said it was planning to use the Boeng Kak land to build an office tower, luxury condominiums, retail space and restaurants. It said the purchase price for the Boeng Kak land, $14.9 million, came to less than a third of the firm’s market capitalization, which stood at $51.2 million at the time.

HLH would be the first company to buy any Boeng Kak land off of Shukaku, which paid $79 million to the city for a 99-year lease on the 133-hectare site in 2007. The site has since been cut down to about 120 hectares on orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

At least two Chinese firms have already pulled out of partnerships with Shukaku to develop the site, which remains empty save for a few roads. The latest company was the Erdos Hongjun Investment Corporation, which, according to government records, had proposed to commit more than $2 billion to fill the site with luxury villas, condominiums, soaring office towers and five-star hotels.

On Thursday, Ms. Pillay said Shukaku had not found another backer to replace Erdos but was nonetheless moving ahead, using its own funds for the construction of a drainage system and five-story office block, scheduled to begin by the end of the year. She said Shukaku was also expecting imminent approval from City Hall for a public park.

She said a new, overall master plan for the site was approved by the city earlier this month.

The forced evictions that cleared the way for the project have sparked dozens of protests among angry residents over the past few years, many of them broken up violently by police and government security guards.

Last month, police arrested seven Boeng Kak women for placing a bed in the middle of Monivong Boulevard to protest the neighborhood’s repeated flooding, which they blame on Shukaku for having filled in a local lake that was crucial to the area’s drainage during the rainy season.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted them of obstructing traffic the following day and sentenced them to a year in jail. Their lawyer filed an appeal last week.

Shukaku pushes forward at Boeung Kak

3 Dec

By: Shane Worrell and Mom Kunthear,Phnom Penh Post, Wed, 3 December 2014

Local developer Shukaku will step up construction of its controversial Boeung Kak lake development project this month, beginning work on a drainage system and corporate office, a spokeswoman told the Post yesterday.

Quashing speculation the project had been abandoned, the company also said that it could have better managed the relocation process that led to some 20,000 people being evicted from Boeung Kak in 2008.

An updated master plan of Shukaku’s Phnom Penh City Centre project – an “eco-city” set to include hotels, housing, a business centre and more – was approved by City Hall this year, said Amu Pillay, the company’s head of corporate communications and public relations.

“There are no financial issues, and the main projects are well under way and on schedule,” Pillay told the Post. “The construction of drainage work will start in [December] 2014.… The entire drainage works is expected to complete by 2017.”

While a completion date has not been set for the entire project, a roads and utilities plan has also gained approval from City Hall, while a design for a “central park” will be drafted this month with a view toward building it next year, Pillay said.

“This clearly shows that we have progressed steadily within this year,” she said.

The revelation from a company that has previously dealt little with the media comes amid calls from the community and rights groups for authorities to release seven Boeung Kak lake women from Prey Sar prison.

The women were sentenced last month to one year in jail a day after they blocked the road outside City Hall in protest against the routine flooding of their homes. Four others, including one more woman from Boeung Kak, were tried and imprisoned a day after.

Children rest in a pipe next to makeshift shelters in 2012 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after their families were evicted from the Boeung Kak lake community to make way for development. Heng Chivoan

“[In] hindsight, we could have done better to manage the situation,” she said.

Shukaku, Pillay said, is now focused on the benefits that its completed development will bring to Phnom Penh.

“It is … designed to be an eco-city where the community can use the Central Park for recreation and enjoy the greenery,” she said. “It is meant to be a park where people can converge and organise community activities, which is clearly lacking in the current Phnom Penh landscape. Overall, this development will also create plenty of job opportunities.”

Shukaku officially launched its development in 2011, showcasing plans for a satellite city, business centre, department stores, conference halls, hotels and apartments.

The company partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment to form the property development firm Shukaku Erdos. However, the firms parted ways, leading to rumours that the development was in doubt.

The two firms, Pillay said, had run into trouble when Erdos Hong Jun submitted a plan to build luxury homes – each worth between $4 million and $5 million – on almost 50 per cent of the land.

“[T]hey realised the project will run into financial chaos.… We were advised that the project will put us in financial ruin,” she said, adding the Chinese company eventually pulled out for “financial reasons” and the master plan was overhauled.

In response to the drainage development, Boeung Kak representative Chan Puthisak said yesterday that he welcomed anything that would stop houses being flooded but had heard nothing from Shukaku or City Hall.

“We’d be so happy if this system helped stop flooding … [but] our concerns with this drainage system are whether they build it to standard. I’m worried they just announce it, but it’s not a good system.”

Puthisak also urged City Hall to show the community any plans it has to improve drainage, something Dimanche declined to comment on.

“We are waiting to see their project,” Puthisak said.

 

8 Jailed Activists Threaten Hunger Strike

2 Dec

By Heng ReaksmeyVOA Khmer, December 02, 2014

Inside view of Prey Sar prison in Cambodia, file photo.

Inside view of Prey Sar prison in Cambodia, file photo.\

Eight land activists put in prison last month after a swift trial say they will hold a hunger strike if they are not released.

In a hand-written letter from Prey Sar prison, the activists say they were improperly tried by Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Among those threatening the hunger strike is renowned activist Tep Vanny, who was awarded for her work by Washington-based Vital Voices last year.

Her husband, Ou Kong Chea, told VOA Khmer he fears for her wellbeing and will seek to visit her in jail this week.

The eight activists were part of a roundup in November for street protests against city officials and a development project at Boeung Kak lake, which forced the evictions of thousands of families. It also meant the filling of the lake, which critics say has created a flooding problem for residents.

Rights groups have condemned the arrests and almost immediate sentencing of the activists, to one year in prison.

Lawyers for the activists say they have appealed the case but it has not moved to the Appeals Court. Court officials could not be reached for comment Monday.

 

Two Detained Outside National Assembly During Protest

29 Nov

By: Sek Odom and Holly Robertson | November 29, 2014

A volunteer from housing-rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and a tuk-tuk driver were detained by district security guards Friday morning during a protest outside the National Assembly calling for the release of 19 recently arrested activists, monks and opposition figures.

About 200 protesters from embattled communities in Phnom Penh, Kompong Chhnang and Preah Vihear gathered at the Assembly, where they attempted to submit a petition asking for lawmakers’ intervention in securing the release of the imprisoned activists—a group that includes nine members of the Boeng Kak lake community.

The NGO volunteer was inside the driver’s tuk-tuk, which was broadcasting messages over a loudspeaker, when Chamkar Mon district security guards detained the pair at about 8 a.m. before releasing them around midday, according to Ee Sarom, STT’s executive director.

“I think [they were] clearly trying to threaten us and intimidate us to make us not to support the local community,” Mr. Sarom said.

However, Chamkar Mon district governor Prum Somkhann said the pair’s detention lasted only an hour and was necessary because noise from the loudspeaker was disrupting a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy inside the Assembly.

Court Cites ‘Misunderstanding’ in Linking Monk to Dissiden

26 Nov

BY KHY SOVUTHY , The Cambodia Daily, November 26, 2014

As a beaming Luon Sovath walked into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for his sedition trial Tuesday, dozens of flag-waving supporters lining the sidewalk called for the charges against the activist monk to be dropped, while a throng of reporters pressed in on him.

In September, Luon Sovath was summoned to appear in court, along with U.S.-based dissident Sourn Serey Ratha, to face charges of incitement to commit a felony, plotting to commit an attack and disrupting last year’s national elections.

Activist monk Luon Sovath gestures to supporters as he enters the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday morning. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Activist monk Luon Sovath gestures to supporters as he enters the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday morning. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

 

The charges stemmed from Mr. Serey Ratha organizing activists in Cambodia to hand out T-shirts urging people not to cast ballots and distribute flowers to soldiers along with stickers urging them to “turn your guns against the despot.”

In a statement released in the lead-up to the trial, 16 NGOs roundly criticized the court for linking Luon Sovath to Mr. Serey Ratha’s case.

But at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, an hour and a half after proceedings were scheduled to commence, Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng opened the trial by saying that Luon Sovath’s charges could be separated from Mr. Serey Ratha’s case.

A few minutes later, deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth announced that the summons issued for the monk was the result of a “misunderstanding” among court officials, and that charges against Luon Sovath had nothing to do with those against Mr. Serey Ratha.

“The hearing today does not involve Luon Sovath,” Judge Chhun Heng said.

In 2012, the municipal court charged Luon Sovath with incitement to commit a felony for his involvement in protests in Phnom Penh.

Luon Sovath says he met Mr. Serey Ratha only once, in the U.S. in 2011, and denies any role in his schemes. Speaking to reporters outside the court after the hearing Tuesday, the monk vowed to continue fighting to promote human rights.

“I will continue to help our society and the nation,” he said, before marching to Samakki Raingsey pagoda in Meanchey district with a contingent of supporters and fellow monks in tow.

Three other men involved in Tuesday’s trial—Im Phearun, 26; Serey Bunlong, 28; and Seng Sok Meng, 30—entered the court with far less fanfare.

Handcuffed and wearing prison-issued jumpsuits, the trio, charged with breaking the election law and joining an anti-government group for passing out Mr. Serey Ratha’s T-shirts in July last year, was escorted by guards into the courtroom, which had almost emptied following Luon Sovath’s exit.

During questioning, all three men denied being members of Mr. Serey Ratha’s Khmer People Power Movement, and said their only contact with the dissident had been via Facebook.

Mr. Serey Ratha, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., admits to organizing both activities from abroad, but argues that neither act constituted a crime.

Their trial is scheduled to continue on December 9.

Cambodian-Born US Politician Joins Prison Protest

24 Nov

By:  CHRIS MUELLER AND MECH DARA, The Cambodia Daily, 24 November 2014

Three weeks after becoming the first Cambodian-American legislator in the U.S., Rady Mom joined hundreds of protesters in Phnom Penh on Sunday to demand the release of 17 imprisoned activists, opposition figures and monks from Prey Sar prison.

Mr. Mom, 45, who was elected as a Massachusetts state representative in the November 4 U.S. midterm elections, arrived in Cambodia last week for a two-week visit to the country.

Dar Rachana, 12, protests outside Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison on Sunday while holding a poster of her grandmother, Nget Khun, who, along with six fellow activists from the Boeng Kak community, was sentenced to a year in prison on November 11. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Dar Rachana, 12, protests outside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Sunday while holding a poster of her grandmother, Nget Khun, who, along with six fellow activists from the Boeng Kak community, was sentenced to a year in prison on November 11. (Satoshi Takahashi)

 

“I feel pity for my brothers and sisters,” a visibly upset Mr. Mom told some 200 protesters outside the maximum-security prison before passing the microphone to his spokesman, Khem Chantha.

“We call, through newspapers and the media, for the government to release our brothers and sisters,” Mr. Chantha told the crowd. “Their crimes are not really serious—blocking traffic is not a penal offense.”

Seven activists from the embattled Boeng Kak community were sentenced to one year in prison on November 11 after being convicted under the Traffic Law of obstructing traffic after they placed a bed frame in the middle of Monivong Boulevard. The stunt was intended to bring attention to flooding in their neighborhood.

The protesters and Mr. Mom hoped to meet with the 17 prisoners—a group that includes 11 activists, three CNRP figures and three monks—but were not allowed to enter the detention facility.

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, also from the Boeng Kak community, said that while disappointed at not being allowed inside, the protesters were heartened by Mr. Mom’s presence Sunday.

“His support encourages and inspires us to fight for justice, and shows we are not alone,” Ms. Bopha said. “We were happy to see him participate with us to demand the release of the 17 who have been unjustly imprisoned.”

Prior to joining Sunday’s demonstration, Mr. Mom met with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday and opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Saturday. He plans to meet with a number of other CPP and CNRP officials throughout the next week and a half.

While visiting a school inside Phnom Penh’s Svay Pope pagoda Sunday afternoon, Mr. Mom said that despite taking part in the morning’s demonstration, the purpose of his trip was not political.

“The first [reason] was to have a little bit of vacation time,” he said. “I also really wanted to have a connection—see the country where I was born—from a different point of view.”

Mr. Mom said his meeting with Mr. Hun Sen last week was a way for him to view Cambodia through the eyes of the man who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years.

“[The meeting] was to meet a man, a prime minister, who runs this great nation…to get a little bit of insight on how he sees the country,” he said.

Massachusetts state representative-elect Rady Mom speaks to reporters at a school inside Phnom Penh's Svay Pope pagoda Sunday. (Neou Vannarin/The Cambodia Daily)

Massachusetts state representative-elect Rady Mom speaks to reporters at a school inside Phnom Penh’s Svay Pope pagoda Sunday. (Neou Vannarin/The Cambodia Daily)

 

When asked if his view of the prime minister had changed after speaking with protesters and opposition lawmakers—who accuse Mr. Hun Sen’s government of orchestrating some of the arrests—Mr. Mom said he did not know enough about the political situation to comment.

“I don’t’ know the whole story of all that,” Mr. Mom said. “I’m more concerned [about] where I came from.”

Mr. Mom was elected this month as the state representative for the 18th Middlesex district in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell has the U.S.’s second largest Cambodian-American population, numbering about 30,000.

Mr. Mom arrived in the U.S. with his family in 1982 after fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime and spending several years in a Thai refugee camp.

On Sunday, Mr. Mom said he hopes his story will inspire not only his constituents, but young Cambodians as well.

“I went to the States in 1982 without a word of English,” he said. “I want to inspire men and women…whether that’s in the States or here, to inspire them to step up, take pride in what they want to see changed. Don’t just scream out, but step up and do something about it.”

UN Envoy, NGOs Rebuke Gov’t Over Recent Spate of Arrests

19 Nov

By: Kuch Naren , The Cambodia Daily, 19 November 2014

The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia on Tuesday joined a group of local NGOs in criticizing a spate of recent arrests of activists, monks and opposition figures.

Ten female land rights activists, three Buddhist monks and two opposition CNRP figures were all arrested last week. Of the 15, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has already convicted 11 of them in two snap trials, sentencing them each to a year in jail.

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha and other residents of Phnom Penh's Boeng Kak neighborhood protest outside the British Embassy on Tuesday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha and other residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood protest outside the British Embassy on Tuesday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

U.N. envoy Surya Subedi on Tuesday urged the government to respect the law while calling on the country’s courts to exercise their authority independent of outside influences.

“It saddens me to see the courts being used again and again as a tool of the executive,” he said in a statement. “The lack of judicial independence is one of the central obstacles to achieving the just, inclusive society that Cambodians strive for.”

“Those who seek to exercise fundamental freedoms can be arrested, charged and convicted, on little or no material grounds. For such cases, justice in the heavily backlogged judicial system can be remarkably swift,” Mr. Subedi added.

Six NGOs also held a press conference Tuesday to condemn the arrests, calling the government’s crackdown on its critics a serious human rights violation.

Latt Khy, who heads the land and livelihoods program for rights group Adhoc, said the courts were clearly under political pressure as the charges brought against the activists were “baseless.”

“We, the civil society groups, believe all the people arrested, convicted, and imprisoned did not commit wrongdoing as charged,” he said.

Son Chum Chuon, program director for the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, said the forced defrocking and imprisonment of three ethnic Khmer Krom monks was a violation of Buddhist principles and had left many Khmer Krom activists fearful of joining any more protests.

“The arrest and detention of the three Khmer Krom monks is a move to crack down on activists to prevent them from participating in social work,” he said.

The Khmer Krom hail from what is present-day southern Vietnam. Many of those living in Cambodia feel colonial France unjustly ceded the area to Vietnam and advocate for its return to Cambodia.

Suon Bunsak, executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said the groups would seek a meeting with lawmakers from the National Assembly’s human rights commission to push for the immediate release of those jailed last week.

On Tuesday morning, about 200 supporters of those arrested marched to 15 embassies to bring attention to their plight. They submitted petitions to the U.S. Embassy, the European Union delegation and offices of the U.N. asking them to put pressure on the Cambodian government to release the group.

 

In relics case, justice takes time

18 Nov

By: Chhay Channyda, Phnom Penh Post, 18 November 2014

Authorities and monks gather around a golden urn from Oudong Mountain and other seized items at a police station in Kandal province in February. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The speed at which 11 people – 10 land activists and a monk – were sentenced to one year in prison last week shows just how fast the justice system in Cambodia can work.

It also stands in stark contrast to the large number of cases that involve long periods of pre-trial detention, including ones where the involvement of suspects remains unclear.

At Kandal prison, Sieng Chamrouen, 35, has been making regular visits to her father, Sieng Sarin, one of four security guards arrested along with a villager when a golden urn containing the ashes of the Buddha was stolen from Oudong Mountain in December.

“My dad was on duty that night, but he does not know who stole the relics,” Chamrouen said.

The relics were later found in Takeo and a 24-year-old man, Keo Reaksmey, was charged after police raided his house. By then, though, police had allegedly already found other statues stolen from Oudong in the home of chief security guard Pha Sokhem.

Effectively treated as a single entity, the security guards and villager were charged and ordered into pre-trial detention.

In the time since their arrest, Chamrouen said, her father and the other men arrested at Oudong have not seen the inside of a courtroom.

“[My father] has been in prison for almost a year,” she said. “He’s innocent [and] should be released.”

A gold seller arrested the same day as Reaksmey and charged with receiving stolen goods has had a similarly uncertain time in prison, though at least has gone to trial.

In a court hearing in Kandal on October 28, Siek Sareth, 39, denied knowing that gold she had bought from Reaksmey – melted down from relics looted from Oudong – was stolen.

“The gold was in melted small pieces,” she said. “I did not know they were relics. I have been a gold dealer for more than 20 years and I have never done anything illegal.”

When Sareth arrived in court on November 12 – with a verdict due – she was told that presiding judge Hok Vanthina was busy. She was then sent back to prison without being told when the verdict would come.

Reaksmey has not yet gone on trial. He did, however, appear in court as Sareth’s only witness, she said.

“He told the court that I did not know anything and he wanted to tell the court that I am innocent and he acted alone,” she said.

Officials at the court gave few details about the three cases.

Lim Sokuntha, the investigating judge in the guards’ case, said he had concluded investigations, meaning his decision on whether to pursue convictions or throw the cases out had been forwarded to the prosecutor.

Sam Rethy Veasna, a court deputy prosecutor, said he had seen no such documents from Sokuntha.

According to NGO the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS), Cambodia is the 27th worst in the world for percentage of pre-trial or remand prisoners in its overall prison population. With about 60 per cent of its prison population composed of inmates in pre-trial detention, it is worse than Iraq and is the second worst in Southeast Asia, just behind the Philippines.

The ICPS’s definition of pre-trial detention includes time served right up until the end of the criminal trial and final appeal.

Using this same basic definition, local rights group Licadho says that 63 per cent of the adult prison population is in pre-trial detention, based on government figures from September.

“For women, the percentage would be 70 per cent and for juveniles it stands at 83 per cent,” Licadho said.

By law, anyone facing a misdemeanor charge can be held up to six months and anyone charged with a more serious crime can be held for up to 18 months.

However, the law says that pre-trial detention is meant to be used only in exceptional circumstances. Reasons for using it include preventing further crime being committed, ensuring the accused attends court and protecting public order.

“As clearly set out in the Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure, in principle, a charged person should remain at liberty,” said Licadho’s prison consultant, Sharon Critoph. “Pre-trial detention should only be ordered as a last resort and only in cases of a felony or a misdemeanor involving a punishment of one year or more [in prison].”

While the theft of national relics would fit that category, long pre-trial periods behind bars often hinder chances of a fair trial, rights groups say.

“It can be argued that where somebody has been held in pre-trial detention, particularly in cases where the statutory time limits have been exceeded, a judge is more likely to hand down a custodial sentence,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights wrote in a 2013 briefing paper on the matter.

Early this year, judges were ordered to begin documenting their reasons for putting someone in pre-trial detention.

“[Licadho] welcomed these moves towards reform, but notes with disappointment that there appears to be no effective monitoring of the extent to which the procedures are properly implemented,” Critoph said.

Continued high rates of pre-trial detention suggested the changes have brought no significant impact yet, she added.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

 

Protest held at Prey Sar in support of detainees

17 Nov

By:Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Phnom Penh Post, 17 November 2014

Hundreds of people gathered yesterday morning in front of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison to demand the release of 17 incarcerated activists, monks and opposition members.

The detainees include 10 land activists, three monks and four members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Fifteen of them were arrested, charged or convicted last week amid a wave of action that observers and rights groups have dubbed a deliberate attempt to apply pressure on dissenters.

Yorm Bopha, a prominent member of the Boeung Kak community, said the arrests prove that “people’s right to live with dignity and freedom of assembly in the Kingdom is being removed by the government”.

Seven fellow Boeung Kak activists were sentenced Tuesday to one year in prison for using a wooden bed to block a road during a protest. The next day, four more people – three female activists and a monk – who were arrested outside of the court were each sentenced to one year in prison for “intentionally inciting violence against a public authority”.

During yesterday’s gathering outside of the prison’s correctional centres one and two, guards set up steel blockades about 20 metres away from the prison gates to keep the demonstrators away.

Ee Sarom, executive director of NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the blockades “should be encouraged” for “the safety of inmates”. But, he added, in detaining the 17, the “municipal authorities are acting like a dictator and violating human and religious rights”.

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said the CNRP was working to secure the release of the detainees.

As well as planned visits to the prison, the CNRP youth will launch a “Free the 17” campaign at Freedom Park at 9am on Wednesday, she said.

A letter from opposition leader Sam Rainsy calling for the release of detained CNRP member Meach Sovannara has also been forwarded to the court, she added.

Following yesterday’s action, Bopha vowed that the group would return “every Sunday until our members have been released”.

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