Security guards outside a Phnom Penh courthouse attacked demonstrators who came to support land rights activist Tep Vanny during her trial Thursday for a 2013 protest near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home.
As the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed Tep Vanny a 30-month sentence for aggravated intentional violence, Makara district security forces were chasing away and beating about 50 supporters.
“While we are trying to support Tep Vanny, the forces pushed us and seriously beat us,” Song Sreyleap told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They kicked a lady who was three months pregnant and they smashed Bov Sophea to ground.”
Song Sreyleap, Bov Sophea and Tep Vanny came to prominence as activists fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from the neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh.
The lake was later filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.
“It is so unjust that the court did not do its work,” Tep Vanny shouted in the court. “I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will help me out”.
Am Sam Ath, an official with the human rights group LICADHO, said the verdict was unfair.
“The authorities should conduct a prompt investigation before the court sentences the defendant,” he told RFA. “While the plaintiffs don’t have any witnesses, the court has already come to a decision. I think it is unacceptable.”
The protest occurred in 2013, but Tep Vanny wasn’t charged until August, when the case was reactivated when she was arrested for participating in another protest.
Seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents— is a major cause of protests in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Laos.
While Ouk Rantana and Hor Heun, the plaintiffs in the case, were in the court compound they didn’t sit in the hearing room. The court clerk read the plaintiffs’ report which accused Tep Vanny of ordering the protesters to commit violence against security forces in 2013.
Tep Vanny’s witnesses say that, in fact, was not Tep Vanny who ordered the protestors to attack. They say security forces launched the attack.
Some of protesters were wounded, knocked unconscious, lost teeth, and some suffered broken arms.
“They don’t have any evidence to charge my daughter,” said Tep Vanny’s mother Sy Hiep. “I urge Prime Minister Hun Sen, Bun Rany [Hun Sen’s wife], and the United Nations help my daughter. She has never hit anyone.”
In addition to the jail time, Tep Vanny was also fined five million riel (U.S. $1,250), and ordered to pay compensation of four million riel (U.S. $1,000) to one of the plaintiffs and five million riel (U.S. 1,250) to the other.
Bail denied for Kem Sokha Five
Cambodia’s appeals court denied a request from four officials with the human-rights group ADHOC and a National Election Commission official who were charged in the government’s wide-ranging probe into opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lead Kem Sokha’s alleged affair.
Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association) were charged with bribery. National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya was charged with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet.
The appeals court judges expressed concern that the five would flee while the court investigated the case.
Lor Chunthy, a lawyer for the defendants, told RFA that the court decision seems like a pre-judgment.
“The court is afraid that our clients would not come to the court even though our clients’ passports have already been withdrawn,” he said.
While the court case against them continues, Kem Sokha and a local Cambodia National Rescue Party official were granted royal pardons in the case.
The pardons came after Prime Minister Hun Sen, who heads the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, asked the King Norodom Sihamoni to issue them.
Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm and Sonorng Kher. Translated by Sarada Taing.