Phnom Penh: A Cambodian court Wednesday sentenced three female land rights activists and a defrocked monk to one year in prison each after they protested against the sentencing of seven fellow demonstrators the day before.
The three women and the former Buddhist monk were arrested on Tuesday after they gathered outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to demand the release of the seven activists -- including a 75-year-old woman -- who were jailed for blocking traffic during a protest.
"The three women and the monk were sentenced to one year in prison each on charge of aggravating circumstances of rebellions against public officials," said Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights.
They were also fined $500 each, he said.
The activists are from the few dozen families that continue to live in the Boeung Kak community -- an area once known for its 130 hectare (320 acre) lake until it was filled with sand in 2010 to make way for a private development.
"This is a joke. There is not enough evidence to jail them," Am Sam Ath said of the latest sentencing, accusing the court of being "a tool of Cambodian politicians and powerful officials".
The communist Khmer Rouge abolished land ownership during its 1975-1979 rule and many legal documents were lost during the period complicating land claims today.
Aid groups estimate that 770,000 people -- six percent of Cambodia`s population -- have been evicted since 2000, including 20,000 people in the first three months of 2014.
Boeung Kak lake was once home to around 4,000 families who lived in stilt houses on its waters and surrounding banks.
The government has leased the area to Shukaku Inc., a private developer headed by a ruling party politician, ignoring residents` claims over the land.
Villagers, who often protest against evictions, are frequently met with violent crackdowns by authorities.
Last month victims of land grabs called on the Hague-based International Criminal Court to probe their mass evictions as a crime against humanity by the state.