The court yesterday upheld the conviction of four Boeung Kak lake activists, including prominent land rights advocate Tep Vanny, over a clash in front of city hall in 2011.
In a complaint brought on by two Daun Penh district security guards, Ms. Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Kong Chantha and Heng Mom were charged with insulting and obstructing public officials with aggravating circumstances under articles 502 and 504 of the Criminal Code.
The four were sentenced to six months in jail.
While reading the verdict, judge Nhoung Thul said the Appeal Court decided to uphold their convictions as their actions were unlawful and the exculpatory claims put forth were unreasonable and therefore were not considered.
After the judgment, Ms. Vanny yelled in open court that the charges were “fake” and demanded that Prime Minister Hun Sen pardon the four activists.
“Cambodian courts cannot serve the people. I request Prime Minister Hun Sen and the king to pardon us, to free us, and pardon the fake charge which the court is merely following based on orders from powerful people,” she shouted.
The defendants’ lawyer Sam Sokunthea expressed disappointment over the verdict, adding that she would discuss with her client whether or not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Am Sam Ath a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, said the court seemed to reject any facts presented by the defense and merely focused on the testimony of the plaintiffs, City Hall officials.
“They have been arrested many times due to the disputes in Boeung Kak. I think the authorities couldn’t solve the problems in the Boeung Kak area by using force or violence,” he said.
“Everyone knows it. The court’s decision, from the very beginning, is to prevent people affected in the land dispute from actively protesting the issue.”
On the day of the alleged crime, the four along with a group of protesters had been attempting to submit a petition to City Hall, asking that a committee be set to up address their long-running land dispute.
They were stopped by Daun Penh security guards who subsequently clashed with the protesters in a bid to disperse them.
They were charged and released on bail in 2011 with no further action for the next five years until August last year when Ms. Vanny and another activist were arrested during a Black Monday protest demanding the release of jailed human rights officials.
Throughout their trial, the defense team presented evidence purportedly showing that the four activists were not involved in the scuffle.
However, municipal court judge Nhoung Thul rejected the defense’s request to submit into evidence a video of the 2011 clash which purportedly would have shown that none of the accused were involved in the fracas.
Another piece of contested evidence was a set of photographs showing two injured Daun Penh security guards. However, when a defense lawyer pointed out that the picture was dated May 2016 and therefore could not have been taken during the 2011 clash, the bench remained silent.
Prosecutors also presented two video clips showing the security guards forcibly dispersing the Boeung Kak residents with no signs of the four accused throwing rocks, shoes or bottles of water as alleged.
Ms. Vanny was also sentenced last week to 30 months in jail for a separate case involving her using violence against Daun Penh security guards near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house.
She was also fined five million riel ($1,250) and ordered to compensate two Daun Penh guards with 4.5 million riel (about $1,000) each.
Source: Khmer Times