(Bangkok) – Cambodian authorities should immediately end the politically motivated prosecution of six land rights activists, including the prominent advocate Tep Vanny, who has been jailed for nearly a year, Human Rights Watch said today.
On July 14, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court is expected to review charges of “public insult” and “death threats” that have been brought against Tep Vanny and other members of the Boeung Kak Lake community, namely Kong Chantha, Nget Khun, Cheng Leap, Heng Mom, and Tol Sreypov. The charges, dating back to a spurious complaint made in 2012, carry penalties of up to 10 million riels (US$2,400) for public insult (article 307) and up to two years in prison and 4 million riels ($970) for death threats (article 233).
“Prosecuting Tep Vanny and her fellow land rights activists is the Hun Sen government’s latest retaliatory act in its campaign to intimidate critical voices,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The authorities should drop these bogus charges immediately.”
In February, Tep Vanny was sentenced in another case to 30 months in prison for “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under article 218 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. She was found guilty of assaulting security guards during a 2013 protest outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
No credible evidence was presented during the trial to substantiate these charges. The court refused to hear testimony from witnesses supporting Tep Vanny’s account that she and other protesters did not commit any violence during the protest. During the trial, para-police kicked, shoved, and dragged activists who had gathered outside the court, resulting in injuries to two Boeung Kak activists and one pregnant woman. Video footage of the incident shows para-police chasing demonstrators into a neighboring mall, and guards cornering one protester and repeatedly punching and kicking him.
Since August 15, 2016, Tep Vanny has been held at CC2 Prey Sar facility prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where she is now awaiting the outcome of her appeal against the February 2017 conviction and prison sentence.
Tep Vanny, one of Cambodia’s leading land rights activists, has worked to combat unlawful evictions and corruption by mobilizing affected communities in the Boeung Kak Lake area of Phnom Penh, where over 4,000 families have had to vacate their homes for a private development project. In 2013, she received a Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for her work on land rights.
She has also been an important voice on behalf of fellow activists, notably when she was arrested while leading a so-called Black Monday protest calling for the release of the “ADHOC Five.” The five current and former members of the human rights group ADHOC were recently released on bail after spending 427 days in arbitrary pre-trial detention. Tep Vanny has also been active in urging an independent investigation into the July 10, 2016 shooting death of Kem Ley, a popular social commentator and frequent government critic.
Cambodian authorities should drop the charges against Tep Vanny and the other land rights activists, and quash Tep Vanny’s earlier conviction and immediately release her. The government should cease persecution of human rights defenders and others exercising their fundamental rights to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
“Cambodia’s international donors should be outraged by this latest wave of politically motivated prosecutions of rights advocates,” Robertson said. “Together they should publicly call for the release of Tep Vanny and an end to the government’s campaign against peaceful protesters.”