The Court of Appeal this morning upheld a sentence of more than two years in prison against prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny for allegedly attacking state security guards during a demonstration in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mansion in March 2013.
“The judge concludes that the suspect committed the crime as the municipal court’s decision found,” Presiding Judge Pol Sam Oeun announced around 8 a.m.
Ms. Vanny was arrested in August last year while leading a “Black Monday” protest and cursing ceremony calling for the release of five current and former rights workers known as the Adhoc 5, who were widely considered to be political prisoners.
Years-old charges were then laid against her, including those over the 2013 protest. Ms. Vanny has claimed that she was attacked by security guards while attempting the deliver a petition to the premier, rather than being the aggressor.
In February, she was handed a two and a half year prison term and a fine of 5 million riel, or about $1,250, by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for intentional violence. She was also ordered to compensate two Daun Penh district security guards allegedly attacked during the demonstration—Hor Hoeun and Uk Rotana—4 million riel (about $1,000) and 5 million riel (about $1,250), respectively.
Ms. Vanny shouted at Judge Sam Oeun upon hearing the morning’s verdict.
“It’s injustice! The judge’s work is following orders!” she said.
Ms. Vanny, fellow activists and rights workers have claimed that her case is a government-led attempt to silence grassroots activism and that only Mr. Hun Sen’s orders could lead to her freedom.
More than 20 Boeng Kak community members were gathered outside the court. The tone of the peaceful gathering quickly changed after the Appeal Court’s verdict, and the protesters held an impromptu cursing ceremony with lotus flowers, coconuts and incense.
“We want to curse those who filed the complaint against Tep Vanny for a crime she did not commit,” fellow activist Sung Sreyleap said of Mr. Hoeun and Mr. Rotana, who were absent from the hearing. “I wish that anywhere you go you will be hit by thunder and die, leaving behind your wife and children.”
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