Cambodia: Sentencing of land rights defenders Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy and Ms. Kong Chantha

13/12/2017
Urgent Appeal

New information
KHM 002 / 0816 / OBS 077.3

Sentencing / Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
December 12, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing of land rights defenders and Boeung Kak Lake community representatives Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy and Ms. Kong Chantha, in relation to a peaceful protest they attended in 2011.

According to the information received, on December 8, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the February 2017 Court of Appeal’s conviction of Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Kong Chantha and Ms. Bo Chhorvy on charges of “insult [of a public official]” and “obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances” under Articles 502 and 504 of the Criminal Code. Their six-month sentences were also upheld.

While Ms. Kong Chantha and Ms. Bo Chhorvy remain free pending an enforcement order from the Phnom Penh Municipal Prosecutor, Ms. Tep Vanny was immediately returned to Correctional Centre 2 (CC2) in Phnom Penh, where she has been in detention since August 15, 2016 [1]. She is awaiting an appeal against a conviction and 30-month sentence in another case in connection with her participation in a peaceful protest in 2013 (see background information).

The Observatory strongly condemns the upholding of the conviction against Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Kong Chantha and Ms. Bo Chhorvy as well as Ms. Tep Vanny’s ongoing arbitrary detention, which only aims at punishing the three for their legitimate human rights activities, and calls upon the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Kong and Ms. Bo and to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Tep Vanny.

The Observatory also urges the Cambodian authorities to cease the harassment of all human rights defenders in Cambodia, and to guarantee that they can carry out their activities free of any hindrance or reprisals.

Background information:

On September 19, 2016, Presiding Judge Ly Sokleng sentenced Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy, Ms. Kong Chantha and another Boeung Kak Lake community representative, Ms. Heng Mom, who was tried in absentia, to six months’ imprisonment after a three-hour hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The four defenders were found guilty of “obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances” and “insult” relating to a November 2011 protest that turned violent when police and security guards were sent in to disperse demonstrators [2]. Ms. Bo Chhorvy and Ms. Kong Chantha were not arrested, as all appeals had not been exhausted.

On February 23, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld their conviction.

During a preliminary hearing by the Supreme Court on November 24, 2017, neither lawyers nor witnesses for the plaintiff were present in the courtroom, denying the appellants’ their rights to cross-examination.

The Observatory recalls that Ms. Tep Vanny played a prominent role in mobilising communities around Boeung Kak Lake to fight against an eviction order agreed upon by the Government and a private corporation, in order for the corporation to carry out development plans which would include filling 90% of the lake to build tourism infrastructure. She is one of the 13 women human rights defenders (the ‘Boeung Kak 13’) who were charged and sentenced to two years and six months’ imprisonment in 2012 as a result of their work resisting these development plans.

On August 15, 2016, Ms. Tep Vanny and Ms. Bov Sophea, another defender from the Boeung Kak Lake community, were arrested while participating in a peaceful protest held by the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh to mark the 15th week of the ‘Black Monday’ campaign. The campaign involved weekly peaceful protests, held on Mondays, where participants wore black clothing to call for the release of human rights defenders Messrs. Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, Ny Chakrya, and Ms. Lim Mony, as well as for justice for the murder of prominent political analyst and ‘Black Monday’ supporter Kem Ley [3].

Following their arrest, Ms. Tep Vanny and Ms. Bov Sophea were initially detained at the Daun Penh district police station before being sent to pre-trial detention in Prey Sar’s CC2 prison in Phnom Penh on August 17, 2016.

On August 17, 2016, both were charged with “incitement” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, after a day of interrogation at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. They were immediately sent to trial, which was adjourned until August 22, 2016.

On August 22, 2016, following a 90-minute trial and after just 18 minutes of deliberation, presiding Judge Pech Vicheator unexpectedly changed the charge to “insult of a public official” (Article 502 of the Criminal Code) during the delivery of his verdict. After presenting a defence against the original charge of incitement, the defendants’ lawyers were given no opportunity to prepare a defence against the new charge. The two activists were convicted of “insulting a public official” and sentenced to six days in prison.

While Ms. Bov Sophea was released on the evening of August 22, 2016 after having served six days in detention, Ms. Tep Vanny was brought back to CC2 prison, after an additional charge had been brought against her. On August 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had charged her with “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances”. The charge stemmed from Ms. Tep Vanny’s participation in a protest near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in March 2013 to call for the release of then-jailed activist Ms. Yorm Bopha [4]
. The protest turned violent when State security forces beat 10 of the activists and pushed others into police trucks.

On January 25, 2017, Supreme Court Judge Kim Sathavy rejected Ms. Tep Vanny’s second appeal for bail.

On February 23, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Ms. Tep Vanny on charges of “intentional violence with aggravated circumstances” (Article 218 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced her to two years and six months’ imprisonment for their participation in the March 2013 protest. Ms. Tep Vanny was also ordered to pay a fine of five million riel (about EUR 1,150), as well as compensation payments of four million riel (about EUR 920) to the first plaintiff and five million riel to the second plaintiff, both of whom are members of Daun Penh district para-police. During the trial, no credible evidence was presented to either justify the charges brought against Ms. Tep Vanny or to prove that any violence was committed against the para-police.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Tep Vanny and all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Tep Vanny as her arbitrary detention is merely aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy, Ms. Kong Chantha and all human rights defenders in Cambodia so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1, 5(b), and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / 855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 212708
· Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 364119
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 216 144 / 855 23 216141, Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh
· Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 882065, Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / info@pressocm.gov.kh
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee. Fax: +855 12 813781 / +855 23 211162 or +855 23 881045 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Bun Hun, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Fax: +855 23 864076, Email: info@bakc.org.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 788 77 74, Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

***
Geneva-Paris, December 12, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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