Activist Gets 2 More Years in Prison Over Protest

Jailed opposition activist Ouk Pich Samnang called on the international community to condemn Cambodia’s court system on Thursday after he was handed a further two years in prison for intentional violence and obstructing authorities, despite a dearth of evidence against him.

Mr. Pich Samnang, who is already serving seven years for “joining an insurrection” over a violent protest near Freedom Park in July 2014, was found guilty for his role in an October 20 protest during which he drove his tuk-tuk through a set of metal barricades.

Imprisoned activist Ouk Pich Samnang is escorted by police Thursday morning into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where he was given a further two years in jail. (Jens Welding Ollgaard /The Cambodia Daily)
Imprisoned activist Ouk Pich Samnang is escorted by police Thursday morning into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where he was given a further two years in jail. (Jens Welding Ollgaard /The Cambodia Daily)

During the trial, five security guards injured during the protest testified that they had not seen Mr. Pich Samnang taking part in violence but believed he was responsible for it. Judge Im Vannak told the court Thursday that was enough for a conviction.

“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court decides first to allow Ouk Pich Samnang to be freed of charges of damaging public property under aggravating circumstances and of joining a criminal association,” Judge Vannak announced.

“Secondly, [the court] sentences Ouk Pich Samnang to two years in prison and fines him 4 million riel [about $1,000] on a charge of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and a charge of obstructing authorities.”

Judge Vannak also ordered Mr. Pich Samnang to pay 10 million riel, or about $2,500, in compensation to cover the costs of medical treatment for the injured guards and for damaged Daun Penh district security equipment.

After the verdict was announced, Mr. Pich Samnang stood up and told the court that the decision was unjust.

“You can appeal the verdict,” Judge Vannak replied.

“There’s no need to appeal but I just want to tell the court it has been unjust to me,” Mr. Pich Samnang replied. “The head of your government induced you to imprison us.”

“This court is a court of criminality,” he continued. “I tell national and international reporters: Please condemn this. Especially to the civil society groups and legal representatives, please pay deep attention. Don’t treat this as a joke.”

None of the witnesses called to testify during Mr. Pich Samnang’s trial said the activist did anything more than drive his tuk-tuk through barricades set up by the Daun Penh district security guards and stand on his tuk-tuk and shout through a loudspeaker during the protest.

On August 25, the final day of hearings, each of the guards explicitly told the court they did not witness Mr. Pich Samnang take part in violence, but blamed him for injuries they said they sustained at the hand of protesters.

“Did Mr. Ouk Pich Samnang hit you?” Judge Vannak asked one guard, 26-year-old Neang Somakara, who said that his right hand, left hand and ankle were injured. “No,” he replied. “He did not hit me, but he led the people.”

Five minutes of video footage of the 54-year-old activist standing on top of his tuk-tuk and shouting was also presented during the trial.

Mr. Pich Samnang’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, said by telephone after the verdict that it was his client, in fact, who was injured during the protest—at the hands of the security guards.

“The decision is in contradiction to justice,” Mr. Choungy said.

“The court should find those who hit and injured him on the head and punish them, but instead it has punished the one who was beaten and injured on the head.”

Sitting on a bench outside the courtroom, Tith Narin, Mr. Pich Samnang’s 48-year-old wife, said that despite what her husband said, she would instruct Mr. Choungy to appeal the conviction.

“Tomorrow I will contact the lawyer to discuss this and we will appeal this decision,” Ms. Narin said, adding that her family did not have the means to pay the fines or compensation.

“How could I have the ability to pay when I am already poor?” she said.

“My oldest son just died, and his father is in jail,” she added. “All my belongings, like the loudspeaker and tuk-tuk, were damaged and nobody has found a solution.”

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