Choa Veasna, a former commune chief from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and seven others were sentenced by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court on Thursday to five years in jail for a violent incident in Poipet town three years ago. Two others charged with them were acquitted.
In May 2015, cross-border porters in Poipet, which borders Thailand, staged a protest over customs duties. Four people were injured, including one who was beaten up by a police officer. Veasna, then the deputy commune chief, claimed he was at the protest merely in his capacity as a local official.
Sum Chankea, the Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc who attended the hearing, said the former commune chief and the other seven were also ordered to pay a total of about $15,000 for the damage done to the custom office building and several cars.
He said Veasna was charged with causing damage and incitement to commit felony, based on several articles of the Criminal Code.
Veasna wasn’t arrested until February last year, more than a year and a half after the incident. He claimed he was targeted for arrest as he was running in last year’s commune election which he claimed he would have won.
“Veasna was the second commune chief in charge of public security and order for Poipet commune. He went to observe the protest together with the Poipet town governor, deputy town governor, police, Military Police, and district police.
“He tried to stop the standoff between the protesters and police. But . . . the protest led to violence, which resulted in injury. The protestors’ anger was not caused by him inciting them. He was just an authority present to help stop the violence,” Chankea claimed.
He said that the court should have dropped charges against the accused but had instead charged and sentenced them to five years prison.
“Those who have power and are aligned to the ruling party are fine. But those whose loyalties are not with the ruling party are charged. We see justice is divided,” Chankea claimed.
Din Puthy, one of the accused, said the court had dropped charges against him and another protester. Puthy also requested that the charges against Veasna be dropped too.
“The protesters had their reasons to protest. They were not incited by Chao Veasna,” Puthy said.
Choung Chou Ngy, Veasna’s defence lawyer, said he would appeal the provincial court’s ruling.
Sok Keobandith, Banteay Meanchey court spokesperson, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.