Cambodia: Hope for the release of Cambodian protestor

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: As political protests continue in Cambodia, one woman remains a symbol of the Government’s crackdown on critics which helped spark a voter backlash at the July election. Yorm Bopha is a young woman from Boeung Kak Lake, where residents have run a concerted campaign against the eviction of an entire community to make way for a large government-supported development. Jailed on what activists call trumped-up charges, there’s now hope she may be released. South-east Asia correspondent reports from Cambodia.

ZOE DANIEL, REPORTER: Lous Lyhour is nine. For more than a year, he’s been without his mother.

LOUS LYHOUR, SON: I miss her. She is brave and keeps struggling. When she is here I have my mum to support me and she is struggling a lot for the sake of our home. I cannot live without her.

ZOE DANIEL: When 13 women from the low income Boeung Kak Lake community were arrested and jailed for fighting against eviction to make way for a government-backed private development, Yorm Bopha was the leader of a high-profile campaign to get them freed. Their case drew attention to land grabs across the country and the impact on people losing their homes to rampant development with little or no respect for human rights.

But when others from her community were let go, Yorm Bopha was jailed, on what human rights activists say were trumped-up assault charges.

OU VIRAK, CAMBODIAN CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: She was one out of many that the Government was trying to use as examples to create more fears, to rule by fear, to continue to rule by fear. When there was some resistance, when there was some dissent, the Government was trying immediately to crush that.

ZOE DANIEL: A recent appeal reduced Yorm Bopha’s sentence from three years to two, but that leaves her with almost another year to serve.

NGOs like the human rights-focused LICADHO group are campaigning to get her out. This video was released to mark her first year in detention.

YORM BOPHA (subtitle translation): No justice! Why? Why? I didn’t do it! I didn’t commit it! Why do you detain the innocent in prison? Who does the judge belong to? Does the judge work for the people or not?

ZOE DANIEL: We first met Bopha’s family and friends last year when they were still coming to terms with her imprisonment, their only contact through letters she sent from jail.

WOMAN (subtitle translation): I love you all because you all give me power and your good will gives me hope.

ZOE DANIEL: Back then her husband and son were praying for her release. Not a lot has changed.

Yorm Bopha’s family is attempting yet another legal appeal, but her husband believes she’s being held as an example to other dissidents, particularly while land disputes like the one around Boeung Kak Lake remain unresolved.

LOUS SAKHORN, HUSBAND (subtitle translation): They keep detaining Bopha to threaten others not to advocate and to take Bopha’s arrest as an example.

ZOE DANIEL: Now, Prime Minister Hun Sen has more than the activists from Boeung Kak Lake to worry about. Since the election, thousands have joined anti-Government street protests claiming vote rigging and fraud helped secure Hun Sen’s victory. Many are calling for the same things advocated by the women of Boeung Kak Lake: a crackdown on corruption and increased opportunities and respect for the poor.

TEP VANNY, ACTIVIST: We want to throw him out from the country. We want to get the new prime minister that has the capacity for development country and for working for the people, for Cambodia.

OU VIRAK: This election, I hope, is a huge wake-up call. I hope it’s a big enough kick to the ruling party that they cannot – there will not be politics as usual.

ZOE DANIEL: Yorm Bopha’s son simply wants his mum back.

Zoe Daniel, Lateline.