Cambodian court jails activist over melee at premier's house

AP News
Posted: Feb 23, 2017 6:47 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced a prominent land rights activist to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of committing violence at a protest she helped lead outside of Prime Minister Hun Sen's residence three years ago.

Judge Long Kes Pirum of Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Tep Vanny guilty of aggravated intentional violence in the March 2013 incident in which several government security personnel were hurt.

Tep Vanny is known for demonstrating against evictions from the capital's Boeng Kak lake shore community, where the government granted a land concession to a Cambodian tycoon and a Chinese company to develop a luxury residential and commercial community.

The protest at Hun Sen's residence in Phnom Penh was one in a series demanding compensation for the Boeng Kak evictions. A melee broke out when guards refused to let the protesters deliver a petition.

Tep Vanny, wearing an orange prison uniform, told the court she was the victim in the case, and accused it and the police of unfair treatment. She said all the protesters in the 2013 incident were women, and were so weakened by a long walk to the prime minister's house that they were in no shape to beat up government security forces, and in fact were beaten by them.

About 30 of Tep Vanny's supporters gathered outside the court complex on Thursday, shouting demands that she be released and briefly clashing with security forces.

The ongoing campaign, involving protests held every Monday with demonstrators wearing black clothing, has grown to incorporate other issues, including the defense of human rights workers.

Tep Vanny has another pending case against her from August 2016, when she was charged with "insult of public officials" in connection with another of the "Black Monday" protests.

Hun Sen in the past year has cracked down on critics and political opponents in what is seen as an effort to strengthen his position ahead of nationwide local elections this year and a general election in 2018. The prime minister and his ruling Cambodian People's Party usually turn to the courts — seen as politically malleable — to put pressure on their opponents.