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The Case of the 11 Opposition Cambodian Protesters

On Appeal Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Assembly
  • Date of Decision
    July 21, 2015
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Cambodia, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Eleven Cambodian opposition members and activists from the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) were jailed on insurrection charges on July 21, 2015.  Their crime was to participate and lead in the protest that occurred on July 15, 2014, which demanded that Freedom Park, a protest venue in Phnom Penh, be re-opened. The protest resulted in a number of people injured.

Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

The protest occurred on July 15, 2014, at the Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. The protest turned violent after Duan Penh district security guards began arguing with protestors who gathered on the Nourodom Boulevard. It was reported that at least six security guards were seriously injured as they were beaten by protestors. [1]

The reason of the protest was to call for the authorities to re-open Freedom Park: a 1.2-hectare plaza in the city that had repeatedly been used as a venue for anti-government protests. The square was closed by authorities in early 2014 after the crackdown on opposition-supported strikes by garment workers demanding a higher minimum wage. [2]

The protest on July 15, 2014, led to 11 members of the CNRP being charged of insurrection. Of all the 11 members, some of them were arrested and some of them reported themselves to the police after warrants for their arrest had been issued. None of them were granted bail. On November 11, 2014, Meach Sovannara, the head of the CNRP’s information and media department, was arrested with a warrant issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. [3] He had been repeatedly denied bail even though $2,500 was submitted as a surety. His passport had also been confiscated. [4]

On July 21, 2015, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced the 11 members of the CNRP to imprisonment. Sovannara was convicted of participating in and leading an “insurrectionary movement” under Articles 456, 457 and 459 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code and sentenced to 20 years in prison. CNRP activist Oeur Narith, and Khin Chamroeun, the president of the party’s youth wing, were convicted under the same articles and received the same sentence. [5]

The rest were sentenced to seven years for joining the insurrection under the Article 456 and 457 for “participating in an insurrectionary movement.” The names are Sam Puthy, CNRP Chbar Ampov district council member; Neang Sokhun, Chbar Ampov district youth leader; Sam Kimheng, Tuol Kork district youth leader; CNRP youth members Tep Narin, San Seihak, and An Batham; and CNRP supporters Ouk Pich Samnang and Ke Khim. [6]

 

On the date the verdict being delivered, only one of the defense lawyers was present. This is because the Court decided to speed the case unnecessarily, which resulted in the defense lawyers boycotting proceedings. The defendants submitted requests to the court asking to delay the ruling until their lawyers arrived but the requests were dismissed by the Court. Moreover, the case was without insufficient evidences. [7] The 11 individuals are currently held at the Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh.

[1] Dara, Mech. “CNRP Lawmakers-Elect Arrested after Protestors Turn Violent.” The Cambodia Daily, July 15, 2014. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/cnrp-lawmakers-elect-arrested-after-protesters-turn-violent-64062/

[2] Finny, Richard. “Cambodian Government Will Reopen Freedom Park if ‘People Obey Laws’: Official.” Radio Free Asia, June 20, 2014. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/park-06202014165838.html

[3] Sokchea, Meas. “CNRP Official Arrested, Charged.” The Phnom Penh Post, November 12, 2014. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/cnrp-official-arrested-charged

[4] Sokchea, Meas. “Meach Sovannara Denied Bail, Again.” The Phnom Penh Post, January 16, 2015. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/meach-sovannara-denied-bail-again

[5] Sokchea, Meas. “CNRP Activists Sentenced for ‘Insurrection.” The Phnom Penh Post, July 21, 2015. http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/cnrp-activists-sentenced-insurrection

[6] Gerin, Roseanne. “Cambodian Court Sentences Opposition Party Activists on ‘Insurrection Charges.’” Radio Free Asia, July 21, 2015. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/court-sentences-opposition-party-activists-on-insurrection-charges-07212015164619.html

[7] “Urgent Action: Opposition Members Convicted in Unfair Trial.” Amnesty International, July 29, 2015. https://www.amnesty.org/download/…/ASA2321732015ENGLISH.pdf


Decision Overview

Unfortunately, the official court document is not available. However, the case is widely considered to be politically motivated. The judicial system in Cambodia is not independent and this type of case is not the first of its kind.

A local Cambodian human rights group, LICHADO, stated that “none of the plaintiffs at the trial identified any of the 11 defendants as having committed an act of violence during the event.” The group also added that the judges denied the requests of the defendants to delay the verdicts until their lawyers arrived in the courtroom. [1]

This makes it clear that this was a show trial with a predetermined ending, apparently set up only to intimidate the CNRP,” said Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s director. [2]

Amnesty International also commented on the verdict that “the trial lacked the most basic trial guarantees” and “the proceedings were littered with flaws and the defendants were denied the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal.” [3]

It is known that the CNRP and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) (the ruling party) have had a long political conflict with one another.

[1] Gerin, Roseanne. “Cambodian Court Sentences Opposition Party Activists on ‘Insurrection Charges.’” Radio Free Asia, July 21, 2015. http://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/court-sentences-opposition-party-activists-on-insurrection-charges-07212015164619.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Cambodia: Quash ‘insurrection’ ruling against opposition activists following unfair trial.” Amnesty International, July 21, 2015. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/07/cambodia-quash-insurrection-ruling-against-opposition-activists-following-unfair-trial/


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

People have the right to have a peaceful assembly. However, in this case, it cannot be proven whether the defendants expected the protest to be violent or even whether they initiated the violence. The verdict is politically motivated. When it cannot be proven how the defendants were involved in the violence, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the defendants and they should be released.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Cambodia, Article 456 of the Criminal Code
  • Cambodia, Article 457 of the Criminal Code
  • Cambodia, Article 459 of the Criminal Code

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:


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