Cambodia: Release of land rights defender Ms. Tep Vanny following 735 days of detention

22/08/2018
Urgent Appeal

New information
KHM 002 / 0816 / OBS 077.5
Release
Cambodia
August 22, 2018

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 release of land rights defender and Boeung Kak community representative Ms. Tep Vanny, after being detained for 735 days in relation to a peaceful protest she attended in 2013.

According to the information received, on August 20, 2018, Ms. Tep Vanny was freed from jail after she received a royal pardon.

The Observatory welcomes Ms. Tep Vanny’s release but recalls that she should have never been detained and prosecuted in the first place, as her arbitrary detention was clearly aimed at punishing her legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory calls upon the Cambodian authorities to ensure that she will not be subjected to any further reprisals and to put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in Cambodia and to guarantee that they can carry out their activities free of any hindrance or reprisals.

Background information:

Ms. Tep Vanny played a prominent role in mobilising Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak communities to fight against an eviction order issued by the Government to authorize a private company to carry out development plans that included filling in 90% of the lake in the area in order to build tourism infrastructure. She is one of the 13 women human rights defenders (the ‘Boeung Kak 13’) who were charged, convicted, 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 community, were arrested while participating in a peaceful protest held by the Boeung Kak community in Phnom Penh to mark the 15th week of the ‘Black Monday’ campaign. The campaign involved weekly peaceful protests, held on Mondays, during which 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 Mr. Kem Ley[1].

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 that day, 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 the 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, on time served, Ms. Tep Vanny was brought back to CC2 prison, after an additional charge was brought against her. On August 19, 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had charged her with “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under Article 218 of the Criminal Code. The charge stemmed from Ms. Tep Vanny’s participation in a protest near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in March 2013 that called for the release of then-jailed Boeung Kak activist Ms. Yorm Bopha[2]. 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 her 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 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 had been committed against the para-police.

On August 8, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s conviction and prison sentence.

On February 7, 2018, the Supreme Court rejected Ms. Tep Vanny’s appeal against her conviction on charges of “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” for her participation in the March 2013 protest and upheld her 30-month prison sentence.

In another case,on September 19, 2016, presiding judge Ly Sokleng sentenced Ms. Tep Vanny and three other Boeung Kak community representatives, Ms. Bo Chhorvy, Ms. Kong Chantha,and 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 “insult [of a public official]” and “obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances” (Articles 502 and 504 of the Criminal Code) relating to a November 2011 protest that called for a resolution to the Boeung Kak land dispute and turned violent when police and security guards were sent in to disperse demonstrators[3]. Ms. Bo Chhorvy and Ms. Kong Chantha were not arrested, as all appeals had not been exhausted.

On February 27, 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld the convictions and prison sentences of Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy, and Ms. Kong Chantha.

On December 8, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Ms. Tep Vanny, Ms. Bo Chhorvy, and Ms. Kong Chantha and upheld the Court of Appeal’s six-month prison sentences for the three 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.

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. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - againstMs. Tep Vannyand all human rights defenders in Cambodia so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Comply with all 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;

iv. 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 to which Cambodia is a state party.

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. Suon Visal, 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, August 22, 2018

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

[1] The Boeung Kak community in Phnom Penh was one of the co-implementing partners of the #FreeThe5KH campaign, launched on August 8, 2016 by civil society groups in support of the five human rights defenders who were remained in pre-trial detention for 427 daysfor allegations of bribery, before being released on bail in the wake of sustained international pressure in June 2017. Yet they still face 5 to 10 years in prison, and their freedom of movement and ability to carry out human rights work remains hindered.
[2] For more information, see Observatory Press Release, issued on September 4, 2013.
[3] During the 2011 protest, the activists were demanding that 94 Boeung Kak families be included in a land plot that Prime Minister Hun Sen had promised to set aside for displaced members of the community.Violence broke out when police blocked about 100 women from walking towards Monivong Boulevard.

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