Dangerous, much?

March 28, 2013

I’m sure everyone is really bored with me banging on about justice, or the lack of it, in Cambodia, but I do spend a lot of time worrying about it. And today was no exception.

The Phnom Penh Supreme Court Municipal Court has just rejected Yorm Bopha’s appeal against her three-year sentence on charges of inciting intentional violence.

Yorm Bopha and her son during her appeal

Yorm Bopha and her son during her appeal

Yorm, a 30-year-old mother of one, is a representative of the Boeung Kak Lake community, who came to prominence during the campaign to release 13 imprisoned Boeung Kak women last year. Which I’ve written about before.

Before her arrest she was threatened, harassed and intimidated and told by police that she was “on the blacklist”, and that she would be “in trouble soon”.

The charges against her were in connection with the beating of a suspected thief, but the real case against her is crystal clear – she, and the rest of the Boeung Kak community land activists are thorns in the side of the authorities, and need to be silenced.

The case against Yorm also involved her husband, Lous Sakorm, but, sending a clear signal that Yorm was the real target, her husband’s sentence was suspended last year and he walked free.

The prosecution’s theory appeared to be that Yorm and her husband had masterminded an assault on two individuals sitting in a drink shop and had then showed up to witness their plan in action.

Three of the witnesses called to testify against Yorm gave contradictory accounts of the events, and it was apparent that two of the witnesses could not be sure who Yorm or her husband were. It also emerged that one witness had gone for dinner that evening, but couldn’t recall who with, due to being completely smashed, although he did remember that Yorm Bopha was present at the incident.

Every single witness stated that Yorm Bopha and her husband had not been violent themselves, and had been present only after the fight had broken out, and only outside the shop. Yorm and her husband testified that they had been nearby chatting with a neighbour and gone over to the shop after hearing shouts.

Amnesty International has called Yorm a prisoner of conscience, and has called for her to be released immediately and unconditionally.

And so do I.

Yorm's mother not taking it brilliantly

Yorm’s mother not taking it brilliantly

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It appears to be wedding season here in Cambodia; I’ve got to go to three inside a week. I don’t know why this should be so, but I suspect it has something to do with it also being the beginning of mango season. There’s definitely a link that can be made between fructification and marriage.

Anyway, there are lots of weddings on at the moment. Last Saturday, Theary, the daughter of our landlord, the saintly Mr Sokha, plighted her troth to Vuth, to whom she’s been engaged for six years. Blossom and I were delighted to be invited, and turned up at the hall where the dinner was being held nearly on time, only to discover we were an hour and a half early, and that the time on the invitation is really only meant as a piece of fun, or something.

So we sat in a corner and drank warm beer, and watched as the place filled up. With nearly 1,000 people. It was truly enormous. As well as the guests, there were innumerable waiters and people with ice buckets and baskets of beer and soft drinks wandering about, so it was all a bit like being in Grand Central Station at rush hour.

Except for the women. By god, they like to dress up, and put some makeup on. They’re not shy about vivid colours, with purples and cerises and yellows, but all very modest, with long skirts and demure blouses. But the hair and the maquillage were quite astonishing. Lyta, my plant-watering sidekick, said she’d spent two hours having her hair and face transformed, from being a naturally pretty little thing, to looking like someone had covered her face with marzipan and then iced it. Her face was as smooth as marble, and as white as snow. Theary was practically unrecognisable. And not in a good way.

But hell, the whole thing was such fun, and everyone was so nice and welcoming, and there was so much Black Label, that it would be perfectly churlish to complain about aesthetics. The women all looked lovely. Not particularly human, but lovely nonetheless.

For readers in the UK and the USA, currently shivering in what you call ‘Spring’, I’m sorry to have to tell you that as well as being mango season here, it is also 37 degrees C (98.6F) today, which is the same temperature as the human body, apparently. All of the trees are in flower; the tamarind and bougainvillea and jasmine and other assorted nice stuff. And they have what are called Mango Showers, which are brief evening rainstorms: we had our first last week, which was the first rain I’ve seen this year.

And for anyone who’s bothered to read this far, I’ll probably be back in the UK at the beginning of July for a week or two, so anyone who fancies a soothing ale or two, let me know. I’m hoping your weather will be fixed by then.

Kind of a mixed week for justice in Cambodia.

The big news here was the death of Ieng Sary, the 87-year-old former Brother Number Three and foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge. He was on trial for crimes against humanity at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia.

Ieng Sary was known as a strong believer in the Khmer Rouge’s extreme revolutionary ideas, and was described as “a duplicitous and manipulative man,” according to the BBC.

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“I have done nothing wrong,” Ieng Sary said before his arrest in 2007. “I am a gentle person. I believe in good deeds. I even performed good deeds to save several people’s lives.”

But Ieng Sary “repeatedly and publicly encouraged, and also facilitated, arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Cambodia,” wrote Steve Heder, a Cambodia scholar who assisted the tribunal.

This included persuading hundreds of Cambodians living overseas to come back to the kingdom. When they did, they were all executed.

It’s important to note that Ieng Sary had not been convicted of any crime. And now he never will be. Nor will his wife, Ieng Thirith, who was let off last year because she’s thought to be suffering from Alzheimers disease. So that leaves just two of the former senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge still on trial: Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan. They are both in their 80s, and the court is working extremely slowly. It has sat for just 15 days so far this year.

Lots of the clerks and translators have been on strike in the last week or two, saying they haven’t been paid this year. This suits former Khmer Rouge cadre and now Prime Minister Hun Sen, who really doesn’t want the court to continue picking through the evidence that he and his senior colleagues were an ineffably nasty bunch of bastards, who shouldn’t be allowed to run a carwash, let alone a country.

On the plus side for justice here, radio station owner Mam Sonando has been freed. In October, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail for stoking a so-called secessionist movement in Kratie province – a claim used by the government to justify a violent mass eviction last May that saw a 14-year-old girl shot dead by police.

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Of course, it was beyond ridiculous that he was ever jailed in the first place.

Rights groups and legal monitors noted that no credible evidence had ever been presented suggesting either that such a movement existed, or that Mam Sonando masterminded it.

Among the critics of the conviction were US President Barack Obama, who raised the case with Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit last year. So at his appeal this week, prosecutors dropped the charge of secession against him (he wasn’t even in the country at the time) and freed him. However, they charged him with something called a ‘forestry crime’ and gave him a five-year suspended sentence. So they can wheel him back in any time they feel like it.

Mam Sonando was, and, one hopes, still is, a fierce critic of Hun Sen. Because we need all the help we can get around here.

Dogged

March 10, 2013

We’ve now been here just over a year, and are feeling pretty comfortable about things. We’ve made some friends, done some travelling, seen some things. We’re not yet living in a colonial mansion, but, on the whole, things are pretty good right now. In fact, I think we’re about to take a leap of faith, and get a dog.

We want to get one of these:

A package of Boston Terriers

A package of Boston Terriers

 

And no, I don’t want to hear any comments about hairdressers. These are perfectly manly dogs, and I’m secure enough in my sexuality to be perfectly happy to be seen in public with a Boston Terrier. They are intelligent, loyal and lively, and I’m looking forward to a dozen years of fun and friendship with the little beast, although Blossom has told me I can’t call it ‘Satan.’

There are a couple of problems, though, apart from finding one out here (there are a number in Bangkok, so we’ve got some people working on that).

The first problem is that of finding somewhere to walk it. Most cities usually have about 12-15 percent of their land as suitable for recreation – that is, as parks. However, here in Phnom Penh, they reckon the figure is nearer three percent. From our flat, I reckon it’s about 15 minutes walk to the nearest blade of grass. And even that’s only about 10 yards across, with six lanes of traffic either side of it.

Back in London, we had Shepherd’s Bush Green within two minutes walk, Holland Park within five, and Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park within 15. Here, we’ve got the Riverside, the Independence Monument, and the Olympic Stadium. And that’s the lot. It’s not entirely fair on a dog.

Even less fair, in my opinion, is the fact that our landlord, the saintly Mr Sokha, has had his two dogs stolen this year, and eaten. If people see a hunk of protein wandering down the road sniffing lampposts, they’ll steal it and cook it, and eat it.

It took me a while to work out what Phnom Penh was missing when I first moved here. In other large Asian cities, you’d have to keep half an eye on packs of dogs. But not here. There are no dogs at all, apart from those on leads.

Mr Sokha lost his first dog just after we moved in: it was a fairly small thing, as I recall. The other was more substantial, about the size of a small Labrador. I could never remember what it was called, but used to greet it cheerfully every evening. They’d let it fossick around outside the gate, and it barked if anyone new came to the house, but otherwise we just cheerfully ignored each other. But this week Blossom mentioned that she hadn’t seen it for a few days. That evening, we asked Mr Sokha, who told us, while laughing uproariously, that yes, the dog had been snatched from just outside the gate at 0600hrs a couple of mornings ago.

We looked fearfully at him, and made little eating motions. Oh yes, they would have eaten him, for sure, he told us, grinning from ear to ear. He’s quite an odd man.

Anyway, we’re borrowing a dog shortly from a couple who are going away for a few days. It’s a small one, and repulsively ugly, but should give us a feel for the realities of dog ownership here in PP.

And finally, and for no reason at all, here is a picture of a gun.  It is real.

A Hello Kitty AR-15. Of course.

A Hello Kitty AR-15. Of course.