Cambodia: Mr. Ven Vorn’s conviction upheld by Court of Appeal

29/09/2016
Urgent Appeal

New information
KHM 003 / 1015 / OBS 084.3
Sentencing / Judicial harassment
Cambodia
September 29, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a 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 Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the conviction of Mr. Ven Vorn, an Areng Valley environmental activist and a community leader for the indigenous Chong minority in Koh Kong Province.

According to the information received, on September 21, 2016, the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and one-year suspended sentence of Mr. Ven Vorn. In a brief verdict, the defendant’s appeal was reportedly rejected without justification.

During a previous appeal hearing, held on September 9, 2016, the Presiding Judge upheld the arguments brought by the prosecution while ignoring defence arguments [1], and repeatedly asked why Mr. Ven Vorn decided to appeal his conviction despite being handed a suspended sentence entailing no jail time.

The Observatory recalls that on March 3, 2016, the Koh Kong Provincial Court found Mr. Ven Vorn guilty of “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” (Article 98 of the Forestry Law) and sentenced him to a one-year suspended prison sentence. Mr. Ven Vorn was released on the same day from Koh Kong Provincial Prison, where he had been detained since his arrest on October 7, 2015 (see background information).

The Observatory strongly condemns the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the conviction of Mr. Ven Vorn as well as the arbitrary detention to which he was subjected, as they only aim at sanctioning his legitimate human rights activities.

The conviction of activists involved in high-profile cases and their release on suspended sentences has become an often-used tactic by the Cambodian authorities to criminalise legitimate activism.

The Observatory calls on the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against Mr. Ven Vorn as well as all human rights defenders in Cambodia.

Background information:

On September 2, 2015, 17 persons, including Mr. Ven Vorn, were arrested outside Koh Kong Provincial Court. They were picketing to demand the release of the three jailed activists, Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and San Mala, who had been involved in protests against a hydroelectric dam. Mr. Ven Vorn was subsequently released.

On October 7, 2015, Mr. Ven Vorn was re-arrested and sent to Koh Kong Provincial Prison. The arrest followed the decision of Investigating Judge Mr. Min Makara, who had questioned Mr. Ven Vorn on the same morning and charged him with “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” (Article 98 of the Forestry Law) and “destruction of evidence” (Article 533 of the Criminal Code).

Both of the above-mentioned charges related to the construction by Mr. Vorn and a group of local activists of a small visitor centre and community meeting place for local activists involved in a campaign against the proposed construction of a hydropower dam in the Areng Valley. According to activists and environmental groups, the hydropower dam poses a threat to their land, livelihood, and the natural environment. For this project, Mr. Vorn and others had purchased approximately 10 cubic metres of wood from a vendor in 2014, which authorities claimed had been procured by the vendor through illegal logging.

On February 17, 2016, Mr. Ven Vorn appeared before the Koh Kong Provincial Court to hear charges of “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” and “destruction of evidence” (Article 533 of the Criminal Code). The court dropped the charge of “destruction of evidence” due to a lack of evidence. Mr. Ven Vorn faced up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to ten million Riel (about 2,250 Euros).

Mr. Ven Vorn had been previously questioned on April 3, 2015 at the Koh Kong Provincial Court in relation to the same alleged illegal logging incident before being released on the same day.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ven Vorn as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all human rights defenders in the country so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance;

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

iv. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments signed or ratified by the Kingdom of 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 23 364 119
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Fax: + 855 23 216 144 / 855 23 216 141, Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh
· Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 882 065, Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / info@pressocm.gov.kh
· Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)
· Mr. Bun Hun, President of the Cambodian Bar Association, Fax: +855 23 864 076, 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.

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    Geneva-Paris, September 29, 2016

    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.

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