Cambodia: Land Rights Activist Tep Vanny’s sentence upheld at Supreme Court
February 8, 2018, 7:56 am
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a 30-month sentence for land activist Tep Vanny on charges relating to a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house that turned violent, leaving the Boeung Kak resident to serve out more than a year of her remaining sentence.
Presiding Judge Kem Sathavy upheld the decision handed down by the Appeal Court in August, saying the defence’s assertion that Vanny did not orchestrate or order the violence on Daun Penh security guards during the protest was not backed up by the evidence.
“After the panel of judges discussed this case, we have seen the [arguments] Tep Vanny and her defence lawyers have raised during the hearing that she did not commit violence. That is not true,” Sathavy said.
Vanny was charged with committing aggravating intentional violence for allegedly ordering protesters to attack security guards, but during the 30-minute hearing prior to the decision, Vanny insisted there was “no proof or evidence” against her.
Around 70 land activists from three evictee communities had attempted to submit a petition to the Ministry of Justice in 2013 asking for the release of Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha and for a quick resolution to their land disputes.
After being turned away, they attempted to submit the petition at Hun Sen’s residence near Independence Monument, but were met with 200 officers and security guards carrying shields and sticks, preventing them from getting close to the premier’s mansion.
In the ensuing melee, which the land activists say was started by authorities, Boeung Kak resident Bo Chhorvy received cuts and scratches to her face, even alleging that a police officer tried to grope her.
The only evidence presented against Vanny in the case was the written testimony of plaintiffs and Daun Penh security guards Hao Hoeurn and Ouk Ratana. As with all the other hearings throughout the rest of the trial, the pair did not appear in court Wednesday, and did not send legal representation in their stead.
Vanny was first convicted over the protest in September 2016, and also has to serve another six-month sentence for a separate protest outside City Hall in 2011.
Rising to plead her innocence, Vanny reiterated that the plaintiffs had submitted no evidence to show that she instructed land activists to attack security personnel.
“There is no evidence or proof that I committed violence to the civil parties. I would like them to show me,” she said, breaking down during her statement.
Her lawyer, Sam Sokunthea, said the evidence did not meet the requirements of Article 24 of the Criminal Code, which relates to the “principle of individual criminal responsibility”.
“All the testimony so far from the plaintiffs is baseless,” she said. “They have no pictures to show. No audio or any witness to prove [their accusations].”
Hoping to present three witnesses, Sokunthea was informed by Judge Sathavy that the hearing was based on the legalities of the case and did not require additional testimony.
Sokunthea ended her comments by reminding the court that Vanny wanted to return to her two children and ailing mother, and that all but one member of her group had resolved their land dispute with the city, leaving the Boeung Kak activist with no reason to continue her protests.
Following the judgment, around 30 despondent Boeung Kak residents outside the court briefly protested the verdict, holding up posters of Vanny and yelling at the court.
Vanny’s daughter, Kong Panha, who was able to briefly meet her mother as the judges deliberated the case, said she just wanted her mother to return home. Vanny said in court her daughter was ill and needed care.
“I really want my mother to come back home because I do miss her. We are separated for one or two years already,” she told reporters.
Amnesty International called the criminal proceedings against Vanny “deeply flawed”, with the group’s director for Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, saying authorities seemed determined to keep her in prison.
A statement released by 34 civil society organisations on Wednesday said they were dismayed by the verdict and that it represented the continued harassment of human rights defenders in the country.
“[C]ambodian human rights defenders such as Tep Vanny are regularly restricted from conducting their work through various forms of judicial harassment, including suspended sentences and arbitrary resurrections of dormant charges,” the statement reads.