Two Boeung Kak lake activists were charged with incitement yesterday and sent to Prey Sar prison after the municipal court decided to skip judicial investigation procedures and proceed directly to trial. A Spanish national who had protested their detention a day before, meanwhile, was deported.
Close to 48 hours after first being detained, Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were charged under Article 495 of the Criminal Code – provocation to commit crimes – for partaking in a cursing ceremony as part of the civil society-backed Black Monday campaign.
Boeung Kak activists on Monday had cursed four headless mannequins bearing such names as “corrupt officials” and “court” as part of the campaign, which is calling for the release of four Adhoc staffers and one National Election Committee official jailed in connection to the government’s ongoing prosecution of the Kem Sokha sex scandal.
Vanny and Sophea, who have both served time in prison for previous protests, were detained that evening by Daun Penh security guards and, after spending a day and a half at the district police station, were produced at court yesterday morning.
“After they were charged, the presiding judge decided to detain both the suspects and continue the trial on Monday,” court spokesman Ly Sophanna told the Post via text message.
The duo’s lawyer, Sam Sokunthea, said she requested the court release her clients on bail, arguing they were not a flight risk and had not attempted to incite a crime, a request rejected by judge Pich Vicheathor.
“I stated to the court that they had no ability to affect social order, they have permanent addresses, and despite facing legal problems before, they never fled,” Sokunthea said.
Following the hearing, Tep Vanny told the Post that both the court and Daun Penh officials had questioned her over the props they had used during their ceremony.
“They asked us why we used United Nations flags, where we bought our black earrings from, and why the scarecrows [mannequins] had no head,” she said.
Vanny added that she had never been arrested or detained for taking part in the Black Monday campaign and officials had previously said they could conduct such activities, as long as it was restricted to their community.
As a police car with the two activists pulled away from court, an intervention police motorcycle collided with the moto of Sophea’s husband, Ly Heap, who was attempting to follow his wife. A tussle ensued between activists and the police outside the court, with Sophea’s older sister Bov Sophorn holding on to the police motorcycle.
Sophorn and activists let go of the motorcycle only after a plainclothes policeman shouted “shoot, shoot, shoot,” following which Sophorn fainted. Bov Sophea, her younger sister, was also hit in the shoulder by a separate police motorcycle.
Sok Sam Oeun, former head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said in the case of a misdemeanour, the prosecutor could invoke Article 47 of the Criminal Procedures Code to move directly to trial and skip judicial investigation.
“With a flagrant crime, if the prosecutors feel they have enough evidence, they can send it directly to trial,” he said.
“But the accused can request the case to be sent to an investigating judge.”
He said there was nothing wrong with proceeding directly to trial, but that investigators normally would send the case for further investigation.
Meanwhile, Marga Bujosa Segado, a Spanish researcher, was deported last night after being detained on Tuesday morning for protesting Vanny and Sophea’s arrest outside the Daun Penh police station. At the time, Segado was clad in a black T-shirt embossed with the slogan “free the activists”.
Uk Hei Sela, head of investigations at the immigration department, said the Interior Ministry had approved her deportation after they found that she was on a business visa, but didn’t have a work permit.
“She was also involved in the Black Monday campaign, but was not part of any organisation,” he said. “She had a work visa but did not work anywhere.”
Before departing, Segado posted on Facebook that she had gone back to the immigration department to collect her passport, which had been kept for verification. There, she was informed that she had to leave the country.
“They trick me, they told me I needed to go to pick my passport and instead they detained me until I leave from Cambodia,” she wrote in English.
Licadho’s director Naly Pilorge said yesterday’s court proceedings and Segado’s departure would only perpetuate “distrust against the judiciary” and show that justice was a privilege only for the wealthy.
“Why are the police and courts so afraid of the Black Monday campaign? It is only citizens wearing black to express solidarity and support to imprisoned human rights defenders,” she said.
Additional reporting by Keo Rattana