Boeung Kak lake activists Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea were this morning convicted and sentenced to six days imprisonment for the crime of “insult to a public official,” a reduction of the original “incitement” charge that came during the judge’s deliberations.
The ruling means Sophea’s sentence effectively amounts to time served, though Vanny faces yet another charge.
The two activists, who were arrested last week, who were convicted under Article 502 of the criminal, will also have to pay a fine of 80,000 riel, about $20. They were previously charged under Article 495 for incitement, a charge that carries a much longer jail term, and sent directly to trial last Wednesday.
“The court has decided to change the charges from incitement to insult in the case of the Boeung Kak area,” presiding judge Pich Vicheathor said while delivering the verdict.
While Sophea is expected to be released this afternoon, fellow activist Vanny will continue to remain at Prey Sar, as she is under pre-trial detention in a separate case.
Following her arrest last week, Vanny was taken in for questioning on Friday for her role in a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in which she and others demanded the release of prominent Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha. That case has seen no legal or police proceedings in the past three years.
While the changing of charges this morning was allowed by court procedures, the duo’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, said it was “unfair” given that he had built his defence around the incitement charge.
“If they wanted to change the charges, they should send it back to the investigation phase,” he said following the verdict.
Cross-examination of Vanny and Sophea centered on the four mannequins they used at a cursing ceremony as part of their Black Monday protest – two of which were labeled “court” and “corrupt officials.”
Both judge Vicheathor and court prosecutor Keo Socheat questioned the duo for using these mannequins and accused them of insulting specific court and government officials.
“We did not do it to affect any person or the public,” Vanny said in response. “We did it to pray to the court to provide justice to the people.”
However, in his closing arguments, Socheat said the cursing of the court was not a reference to the institution but an actual person.
Despite Sophea’s imminent release from Prey Sar, her husband, Ly Heap, said he was not happy with the court’s decision to convict the two, and especially the continued detention of Vanny.
“The court wants to find ways to accuse and burden Tep Vanny, because they do not want to release her,” he added.