Violence marred the trial of prominent land activist Tep Vanny, who was sentenced earlier this morning to two years and six months for aggravated intentional violence in relation to a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh.
As Vanny’s trial resumed after a two week recess, Prampi Makara district security guards started to kick, shove and drag land activists who gathered outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court premises, pushing them to the other side of the street. Two Boeung Kak lake activists and one pregnant woman from the Borei Keila community suffered minor injuries and fainted during the scuffle.
In the ensuing melee, about six security guards could be seen chasing Mao Socheat, a motodop and resident of Samaki Rainsy pagoda, into the nearby City Mall, where they beat him up for attempting to defend the protesters.
Video footage of guards beating Mao Socheat in City Mall:
“When we heard they were going to take Tep Vanny to prison, we wanted to show our support,” said Boeung Kak activist Song Sreyleap. “But the authorities did not want us to do that and beat us, pushed us away from the court.”
Inside Courtroom 3, screams and shouted slogans broke out among Vanny supporters as judge Long Kesor Pirum announced she would be sent to Prey Sar prison for 30 months. She was also fined 5 million riel ($1,240) and and ordered to pay 9 million riel ($2,240) in compensation to the two plaintiffs – Daun Penh security guards Hao Hoeurn and Ouk Ratana.
The trial, which commenced on February 3, was abruptly adjourned the same day after judge Kesor Pirum cited health reasons. Neither of the plaintiffs was in court nor were the Daun Penh security guards – with only their written statements read out during the trial.
“There were about 100 people at the protest on March 13, 2013,” read Hoeurn’s statement. “Then we heard Tep Vanny give the order to start violence against the authorities.”
Defense lawyer Sam Sokunthea, in her closing argument, said there was no truth to the security guards’ accusations and said the perfect synchronicity between prosecution witness testimonies was troubling.
“The evidence given by the plaintiffs is not reliable,” she said. “The evidence from them and the two prosecution witnesses seemed coordinated.”