Four Boeung Kak lake activists were convicted and sentenced to six months in jail yesterday for their roles in a 2011 scuffle with security personnel outside City Hall, a ruling defence attorneys insisted was accompanied by a glaring lack of evidence.
The four – Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom and Kong Chantha – were found guilty of insulting and obstructing public officials as the “ringleaders” of the nearly five-year-old protest. Chantha was found guilty in absentia.
“After considering all the testimony and evidence, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decides to sentence the four suspects . . . to six months in jail,” presiding judge Ly Sokleng said.
On the day in question, the activists had been attempting to submit a petition to City Hall requesting the establishment of a committee to address their long-running land dispute when they were confronted by security guards.
Following the clash, the four were charged in 2011 under articles 502 and 504 of the Criminal Code and released on bail. For the next five years, those charges would lay fallow and seemingly forgotten – until a month ago.
On August 15, Vanny and fellow activist Bov Sophea were arrested for insulting public officials during a cursing ceremony as part of the so-called Black Monday campaign demanding the release of jailed human rights officials.
A week later, they were found guilty. A week after that, fresh summonses were delivered for the long-forgotten 2011 case.
Ham Sunrith, one of three defence lawyers working on the case, yesterday slammed the evidence as woefully inadequate for a conviction.
“After listening to the witnesses’ testimony, I cannot see any way that my clients insulted the officials. The evidence used to convict my clients was very weak,” Sunrith said after the trial concluded.
Earlier in the day, Sunrith and the other lawyers representing the quartet repeatedly questioned evidence produced by the court and prosecutor, saying that none of it indicated wrongdoing.
One piece of contested evidence introduced was photographs of two injured Daun Penh security guards – Chan Ratha and Hov Hoeun. Sunrith pointed out that the pictures presented were dated May 2016, years after they were allegedly assaulted, a charge that elicited only silence from the bench.
Prosecutor Var Sakada also produced two short video clips that showed security personnel forcibly clearing Boeung Kak residents, but the footage shown to the court contained no images of the activists throwing rocks, shoes and bottled water as accused.
“There is no evidence to charge my clients and there was no intention by them to commit either of these crimes. So drop the charges,” said Sunrith.
Following the hearing, Chantha said that the conviction was unfair because it was the authorities who had been violent and attacked them.
“They use these means to try and charge Boeung Kak residents again and again. Boeung Kak people are not the opposition party,” Chantha said.
Chantha and fellow suspect Chhorvy were released pending a 30-day appeal period.
Vanny was sent back to Prey Sar prison where she remains in pre-trial detention for yet another protest – a 2013 demonstration outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence.