Courts Delay Verdicts for Environmentalist and Activist Group

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Khmer Thavrak activist Hun Vannak clashes with Prampi Makara district authorities during a rally in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 13, 2020. (Khan Leakhena/VOD)
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The Phnom Penh and Kampong Thom courts on Tuesday delayed expected verdicts against members of activist group Khmer Thavrak and a Prey Lang environmentalist charged with attempted murder.

In Kampong Thom, deputy provincial prosecutor Say Veasna said a verdict hearing for Chan Thoeun, an environmentalist charged with attempted murder, was postponed due to risks of Covid-19 transmission.

The country is in the midst of another rise in cases and deaths, recording more than 800 infections in each of the past five days and averaging around 21 daily deaths for the week, the highest rate in nearly two months.

Thoeun, a member of the Prey Lang Community Network, has previously said that he is charged for an alleged crime from July last year. He has said that he saw a timber trader in a community forest hauling timber, but when he pulled out his phone to capture footage, he was threatened at knifepoint. He was then accused of trying to murder the timber trader and sued for $2,000 in compensation, he has said.

Thoeun said on Tuesday that the trial had already been delayed twice, and the prolonging of the case weighed on him.

He said he was in hiding, partly as he feared an attack from the plaintiff. 

“I think it is unfair for me. I am a forest activist and sacrificed everything … to try to protect [the forest], but I’ve been put under pressure. I think it is very unjust for me,” he said.

The verdict has been rescheduled for October 12, he added.

Sok Ratha, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the court should aim for a speedy conclusion to the case.

“As we know, the community has the will and conscience to participate in protecting the natural resources. It is a common interest. If there is any shortfall in terms of the law, [the court] should seriously consider it and make it faster for him,” Ratha said.

In a separate case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court also delayed the verdict announcement for incitement against members of Khmer Thavrak, an activist group involved in protests last year in support of jailed unionist Rong Chhun. Chhun was arrested — and sentenced earlier this year — over comments that Vietnam was encroaching on Cambodian land, an ethnically tinged allegation with a long, incendiary history.

Arrested activists include former monk Koeut Saray, whose 74-year-old mother spoke to VOD this month about her anxieties over his detention.

Defense lawyer Sam Chamroeun said on Monday that the court had delayed the verdict without stating a reason or scheduling a new date.

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