An ‘indefensible’ verdict

By:Khouth Sophak Chakrya , The Phnom Penh Post  January 27, 2015

bkak-lake-protest-at-appleas-court_hong-menea
A Boeung Kak lake supporter holds a portrait of a detained community activist during a demonstration yesterday in front of Phnom Penh’s Court of Appeal. Hong Menea

Despite hopes to the contrary, 10 female land activists, including seven well-known Boeung Kak lake protesters, and a monk, had their convictions upheld yesterday morning at theAppeal Court, two and a half months after they were arrested and sentenced to a year inprison within 24 hours of their respective arrests.

Although most received slight reductions in their prison terms and fines, it appeared to be of little consolation.

Following the verdict, the jump-suited defendants yelled and protested the “injustice” of the decision in the courtroom before being dragged out and into waiting police vans.

Two of the group – Boeung Kak community leader Tep Vanny and monk Soeun Hai – were not offered any leniency in their jail sentences by presiding judge Nguon Im.

As news of the verdict arrived outside the court, waiting family members, including a number of children, were inconsolable as they clutched portraits of their mothers, wives and daughters.

Thirty-six NGOs, rights groups and unions later slammed the verdicts as “indefensible”, saying they followed an appeal hearing “that was characterised by an almost total absence of fair trial rights”.

The seven Boeung Kak women were convicted on November 11 for blocking traffic on Monivong Boulevard with a bed during a protest the day before, in which they called on City Hall to drain floodwater from their houses.

Five of them – Kong Chantha, Song Srey Leap, Bo Chhovy, Nong Sreng and Phan Chhunreth – had two months shaved off their sentences yesterday.

They were also ordered to pay a fine of 1.5 million riel, about $375, rather than the original 2 million.

Nget Khun, the 75-year-old protest stalwart known as “mummy”, had her sentence and fine halved, meaning she has less than four months remaining to serve. Vanny had her fine reduced to 1.5 million riel but saw her prison term remain intact.