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PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA

On May 24 2012 after a three-hour trial with no defence lawyer or witnesses, 13 women from the Boeung Kak area were convicted for occupying state land and obstructing public officials, after they were arrested for gathering on the dunes of what is left of the lake.

The women were given between two and half and one year sentences. Ever since, supported by NGO’s and the international community, families and villagers have gone out to the streets of Phnom Penh to demand for their release on what some have called the ‘Lotus Revolution’.

On June 27 2012 a month and three days after the trial that sent them to prison; the 13 women appealed the court’s decision. Fearing unrest, the police closed the main streets neighbouring the Court of Appeal, where families and supporters gathered to wait on the verdict.

As the day started clashes with the police took place, leaving a few people injured including two children and a three-month pregnant woman who lost her unborn baby after being kicked in the stomach by the police.
Nonetheless, villagers kept calm and their hopes up for hours until news reached them announcing the reduction of the women’s sentence to the month and three days already served in prison.

Tears and cries of joy filled the streets; villagers danced and hugged each other on their most important victory since the 12.44 hectares were granted. Nonetheless, it was a half-hearted victory. The sentence was reduced based on the fact that most of the women have young children, but unlike supporters and NGO’s hopes the court did not drop the charges.

After attentively cleaning the streets where they had gathered for hours, hundreds of villagers moved to the prison where they waited patiently until 7:30pm when the women finally were released, and in a massive convoy of tuk-tuks and motorbikes were taken to the Boeung Kak Lake, where they were welcomed with a vast party. Two days after accompanied by their families and friends, the women visited Kean Cleang pagoda for a cleansing ceremony to release them of any bad luck for the future.