Protest violence as activist jailed

Protesters are caught up in scuffles outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Protesters are caught up in scuffles outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court. KT/Chor Sokunthea

At least three women – one pregnant – and a man were hurt in a clash with security forces at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday after land rights activist Tep Vanny was jailed for two and a half years over a 2013 protest.
Ms. Vanny was charged with using violence against Daun Penh security guards near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh.
The protesters, most of whom were women from the Beoung Kak community, had brought a petition about their land dispute when security guards attacked the group.
Multiple protesters suffered injuries. Ms. Vanny was convicted yesterday after the guards said they were attacked first with stones thrown by the women.
Judge Long Kesphirum also fined Ms. Vanny five million riel ($1,250) and ordered her to compensate two Daun Penh guards – Hor Heourn and Ouk Ratana – with 4.5 million riel (about $1,000) each.
During her sentencing hearing, Ms. Vanny ridiculed the guards, questioning how men their size could have been seriously injured by a woman.

Tempers flare as protesters gather outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court where Tep Vanny was sentenced. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Tempers flare as protesters gather outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court where Tep Vanny was sentenced. KT/Chor Sokunthea

She called the trial an injustice because she was the accused and security guards – who she said had beaten and injured her and other protesters – were the plaintiffs.
Ms. Vanny was arrested last August on charges related to a Black Monday protest. The charges against her from the 2013 protest were revived after lying dormant for three years.
She spent 192 days in detention before yesterday’s verdict.
A group of about 30 land rights protesters from the Boeung Kak, Borei Keila, and Phnom Bat communities demonstrated outside the court yesterday demanding Ms. Vanny’s release.
District security guards tried to prevent the protesters from congregating in front of the court.
Boeung Kak community representative Bov Sophea, along with protester Song Sreyleap and a pregnant woman from the Phnom Bat community were allegedly  injured by the guards.
Mao Socheat, an opposition party activist who stepped in to protect some of the women, was also beaten by district security forces after fleeing into City Mall.
Mr. Socheat said he had done nothing to deserve being beaten by the security forces.
“I saw them throwing Boeung Kak women into the road block barrier,” he said.
“I said to stop it, stop it. I didn’t attack them back,” he said. “I just used my hands to block them from throwing the women into the road block barrier.”
Ms. Sophea said she suffered injuries to her head and legs when security guards descended on the group, which was made up mostly of women and children.
The governor of 7 Makara district, Lim Sophea, declined to comment.
However, City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey said it was the citizens’ fault that the security guards attacked them because they had acted contrary to City Hall policies and were interfering in the trial.
The court was right, he said, to crack down on the protesters in the way that it did.
Am Sam Ath, senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, attended Ms. Vanny’s trial and said the 7 Makara district security forces seemed not to respect basic principles of public order and security, instead using violence against peaceful land rights activists.
He also expressed regret at the court decision to block lawyers from questioning witnesses, the plaintiffs and the suspect.
“If we look at the evidence and the discussion, it seems that there is not a point that shows that Ms. Tep Vanny is an offender of such a charge. That is what we really regret,” he said.Licadho released a statement in conjunction with 61 civil society organizations detailing the problems they saw with the trial.
“Neither plaintiff, nor any prosecution witnesses, gave live testimony at either of Vanny’s two hearings, preventing cross-examination. Instead, the court clerk read out virtually identical statements claimed to be written by the plaintiffs and prosecution witnesses,” they wrote.
Protester Ms. Sreyleap, who was hurt, said the situation outside of the court was emblematic of what went on inside the court.
“Again and again, we are injured on the streets by guards and yet Vanny is the one falsely described as violent and sent to prison,” Ms. Sreyleap said.
“The justice system is totally incapable of providing justice for the people.”
Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s deputy director of advocacy, said, “Authorities are once again punishing Vanny for her activism to send a clear message to any who dare criticize the government that dissent is not tolerated in Cambodia.”

Source: Khmer Times

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