Last Updated on 06 June 2013 By Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Shane Worrell
One of the three judges in the heavily scrutinised appeal hearing of Boeung Kak lake activist Yorm Bopha yesterday suggested that the testimony of her two alleged victims was contradictory to original accounts used to charge her.
Less than two hours later, Bopha left the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh screaming for justice after the case was adjourned until next Friday and she was ordered back to prison.
The 29-year-old, who was sentenced to three years in jail in December for allegedly ordering an axe and screwdriver attack on two motodops, was led to a van bound for PJ prison after court proceedings lasting little more than three hours.
“We will continue the trial on June 14 at 2pm because right now it is 6pm and we have to hear the testimony of six witnesses from both sides,” Chay Chantaravann, one of three presiding judges, said. “We can’t hear this case all night.”
During the testimony that was heard, Nget Chet, 28, and his cousin Vath Thaiseng, 24, the two motodops claiming Bopha ordered her two brothers, Yorm Kanlong and Yorm Seth, to beat them last August, contradicted earlier statements they had made to judges.
Thaiseng said Kanlong had attacked him with a screwdriver in a bar in the Boeung Kak area, striking him in the temple and on top of the head.
“When Yorm Kanlong beat me, Yorm Seth attacked my friend with an axe, causing him to faint,” he said.
But Chantaravann challenged this account, saying Thaiseng had originally told the case’s investigating judge that Bopha’s other brother was his attacker.
“You said during the [initial] investigation that Yorm Seth attacked you,” he said.
Thaiseng gave no response to this comment.
When Chet took the stand, he said Seth struck him twice in the head with an axe. Chantaravann reminded him that he had previously said Kanlong was his attacker.
In the two men’s defence, court prosecutor Tan Seng Narong said their accounts yesterday were the same ones they had provided during Bopha’s trial at the municipal court in late December.
“So the court should focus on their injuries instead,” he said.
In testimony that differed from Thaiseng’s, Chet denied fainting and said he clearly saw the events that followed.
“Did you know [Bopha’s brothers] before the attack?” Chantaravann asked.
Chet replied that he didn’t and, when pressed to explain how he knew which brother was which, said he “heard someone saying that these two brothers had [beaten] us”.
“You heard from someone or you knew for sure it was the two brothers?” Chantaravann asked.
“I heard from someone,” Chet replied.
When asked how many glasses of herbal wine they had drunk before they were attacked, Thaiseng said “about three or four”. Asked a second time, he said “four or five”.
Bopha was arrested on September 4 and convicted on December 27 of intentional violence. Her husband, Lous Sakhorn, 56, was arrested the same day but later released. He was also found guilty but had received a suspended sentence.
Kanlong and Seth were sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.
Bopha, who rights groups say was targeted due to her activism, said yesterday that her brothers had not visited Boeung Kak lake since 2011.
Sakhorn said he and Bopha had witnessed a fight at the front of the dimly lit guesthouse after hearing cries for help.
“I saw, but not clearly, two men fighting each other,” he said. “My wife and I walked back to [a friend’s] house and 20 minutes later, I saw two men walk past with blood on their faces.
They did not accuse us of anything.”
At times in the crowded courtroom, Sakhorn and Bopha shared the same row of five seats with Thaiseng and Chet.
Outside the court, hundreds of people from two opposing groups – the land rights community supporting Bopha and motodops supporting their two colleagues – shared the same road.
Following the postponement, Boeung Kak lake activist Tep Vanny said she felt upset that the court had again delayed justice for Bopha. “They’re trying to detain her even longer. She must be released,” she said.
E Sophors, president of motodops group the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association, addressed his members through a megaphone upon hearing the court’s announcement.
“Bravo! This is a victory for us,” he shouted.
But Am Sam Ath, technical adviser for rights group Licadho, said he believed the delay would disappoint both sides.
“They want a verdict soon,” he said. “I think this will prolong the protests and in ways, that is concerning.”