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Cambodian Activists Swiftly Convicted One Day After Arrest

Supporters gather in front of banners which read " FILE - Please provide justice to land activists of Boeung Kak," at a blocked main street near Phnom Penh Municipality Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, May 30, 2014.

Seven Cambodian housing and land rights activists have been sentenced to a year in prison, just one day after they were arrested during a protest.

The activists, who were protesting poor flood management in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak neighborhood, were charged Monday with creating disorder on a public road. They were brought before a court Tuesday and found guilty

The sentenced activists include Tep Vanny, who was recognized for her work last year by the U.S.-based Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Ham Sunrith, one of four lawyers representing the activists, spoke with VOA's Khmer service after the unusually fast trial and conviction.

"It is sorrowful to see that all charged suspects were sent to prison," said Sunrith. "These women are the [money earners] of their families."

Am Sam Ath, the chief of technical investigation of Licadho, a local human rights group, says the verdict is disappointing.

"It is very unfair because they only used their rights of protest for the Phnom Penh authority to drain flood waters from Boeung Kak," said Sam Ath. "The constitution states clearly that the state must ensure the well-being and health of the people."

Trials in Cambodia are rarely conducted as quickly as this hearing. Under normal circumstances, defendants will wait weeks or more before their case goes to a full trial. It is not known why this case was expedited and government officials have not commented on the proceedings.

Boeung Kak was heavily developed by a real estate company. Work included filling in a major lake in the city. Major flooding there now is blamed on the development, which has also displaced thousands of impoverished families.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.

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