Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
Closed Contracts Expression
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The Appeals Court of Phnom Penh upheld Tep Vanny’s conviction and sentencing of 30 months in prison for ‘intentional violence with aggravating circumstances.’ On February 23, 2017 The Phnom Penh Municipal Court had found Vanny guilty of assaulting security guards outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2013 while trying to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister calling for the release of the fellow activist, Yorm Bopha. She was also forced to pay damages to the State as well as compensation payments to two members of the Daun Penh para-police whom she allegedly assaulted.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression notes that some of the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. The analysis will be updated if and when official sources become available. The present case is one of four criminal cases brought against her.
Tep Vanny is a land rights activist in Cambodia who had been active in campaigning against the eviction of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh since 2007. Vanny was charged on August 22, 2016, three years after she protested outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2013 while attempting to deliver a petition to him asking for the release of fellow activist, Yorm Bopha.
The protestors clashed with a team of security guards from the Daun Penh district, who later sued Vanny for assault. Hor Hoeurn, one of the guards, claimed that his head was attacked by a protester’s loudspeaker. Ouk Ratana, another guard, claimed in his statement that he was struck by a 50-year-old woman who was holding a bag.
The guards visited the courthouse prior to the hearing but did not enter the courtroom to testify. Only their written statements were read out by the court’s clerk during the trial. None of the security guards from the Duan Penh district unit were present as a witness. The guards also declined to be interviewed but let their unit chief, Kim Vutha, speak for them instead. No testimony was given by any eyewitness and there was no footage put before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of Ms. Vanny’s alleged assault on the guards. Both guards also claimed that they were knocked unconscious by Vanny after she threw plastic bottles, soft drink cans, and shoes at them. However, there was no medical evidence presented to the court, that supported their claims that they were injured.
The guards’ statements were reported as nearly identical. Hoeun’s statement read, “There were about 100 people at the protest on March 13, 2013. Then we heard Tep Vanny give the order to start violence against the authorities.” Another statement by Ouk Ratana read “I heard Tep Vanny order through a loudspeaker telling protesters to go into the prime minister’s house.” The statement also said “Another lady, who was about 50, carried a bag and beat our group, injuring the back of my head.”
Eyewitnesses reported that it was the security guards who attacked the protesters. Three Boeung Kak residents, Nget Khun, Bo Chhorvy, and Kong Chantha testified on behalf of Vanny. One of the defense witnesses, Bo Chhorvy, stated that the guards attacked the crowd first. She testified that they broke the arm of one protester and knocked out three teeth of another. According to Chhorvy, they were unarmed and only lotus flowers and loudspeakers with them. According to Vanny’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, the only person the guards accused of the violence in their statements was a 50 years-old woman. In his own words, he said “They bring no witnesses, and they point at a third person, who is not my client. The person who committed the crime is not here in the court.”
Vanny insisted that she did not commit the crime. She said to the court “I’ve never seen [Hao Hoeurn’s] face, and when I saw it, I was very shocked because he is so big. How could I beat him?”
On February 23, 2017 Judge Long Kesor Pirum delivered the judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, finding Tep Vanny guilty of assaulting security guards while she tried to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister.
She was sentenced under Article 218 of the Criminal Code for “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances”. Judge Long Kesor Pirum stated that “[t]he Phnom Penh Municipal Court decided to sentence defendant Tep Vanny to two years and six months in prison and pay damages totaling 5 million riel [approximately $1,250] to the state budget.” She was also ordered to pay the two state security guards whom she was alleged to have assaulted, Hor Hoeurn and Ouk Ratana, 4 million riel ($1,000) and 5 million riel ($1,250) respectively.
The Court of Appeal by the Presiding Judge Pol Sam Oeun upheld her 30-months sentence on August 8, 2017. He reasoned “The council sees that there was violence that happened and complied with the charge of ‘violence with aggravating circumstances, and that decision of the municipal court was correct,”
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision contracts expression by imprisoning and fining an outspoken activist on spurious charges of assaulting security guards during a protest. Human Rights organizations such as Frontline Defenders and Amnesty International have reported that repeated targeting of Tep Vanny by the authorities, and the failure to conduct an effective investigation into the charges against her, demonstrate that the authorities used the law as a means of silencing her. This is despite the fact that the right to freedom of expression and assembly is constitutionally protected in Cambodia, and that Cambodia is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Appeal Court upheld the 30 months sentence on August 8, 2017.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.