Youth activists and former opposition members were convicted for incitement on Tuesday morning for their participation in protests last year calling for the release of jailed unionist Rong Chhun.
Fourteen defendants in the case were convicted for incitement and handed prison sentences ranging from 20 months to two years. Former Australian politician Hong Lim, the 15th defendant and a frequent critic of the Hun Sen government, was acquitted in the case.
The youth activists and members from the Khmer Thavrak social justice group, Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), and the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, protested on the streets of Phnom Penh last year, with authorities arresting them over the course of two months, starting in August.
Khmer Thavrak activists Hun Vannak and Chhoeun Daravy and former CNRP activists Chum Puthy and Chhuo Pheng were convicted for incitement and sentenced to 20 months in prison and a 2 million riel fine each, or about $500. Five months of the sentence was suspended and they will serve only 15 months.
CNRP activist Kong Sam An, KSILA’s Mean Prum Mony and Muong Sopheak, and Khmer Thavrak’s Koeut Saray, Tha Lavy and Eng Malai will only serve 14 months of their 20-month sentence and have also been fined $500 each.
All 10 activists have been placed under probation for two years, and will have to report to the prosecutor if they change their address, job or want to go abroad. They are also banned from contacting three senior CNRP officials convicted of instigating their protests.
The CNRP’s Seng Meng Bunrong, Ho Vann, Ou Chanrith and Kong Saphea were sentenced in absentia to two years in prison, with the latter three also convicted for being instigators. They were ordered to pay fines of about $1,000 each. The court ordered their arrests.
The verdict was scheduled to be released on September 28, but was delayed without a reason being provided by the court.
Though some of the defendants did not react to judge Tith Sothy Borachhard’s verdict, Khmer Thavrak’s Daravy exclaimed that the decision was unjust as she walked out of the courtroom.
“I still consider it an injustice because I did nothing wrong,” she said.
So Sambath, 48, the mother of KSILA’s Sopheak, said her son had simply worked to serve the people without looking for personal gain.
“He sacrificed his time and life, and it is not appropriate for him to have been sentenced,” Sambath said. “[He] just participated in expression, in environmental work. It is nothing wrong. It helps the society and it’s nothing wrong at all. So, when he was arrested and charged, it was so unjust.”
Sambath said she would not try to stop Sopheak from speaking out in the future, as it was his right as long as he only wanted to help the country.
“I have told him that if you are doing something right, you can do it. If something is wrong, you don’t do it. Something which benefits the nation and society, you can do it [but] don’t affect others. I told my son to follow the good path.”
Eng Vandy, 22, the younger sister of Khmer Thavrak’s Malai, spoke to reporters outside the court and thanked the court, noting that her sister only had about one month left to serve, but the verdict was still unjust.
“Her activities were not wrong. She made no mistake because she used her rights to do social work,” Vandy said.
Defense lawyer Sam Sokong, who defended the CNRP activists and officials, said he felt disappointed by the decision.
“Their activities are not a kind of incitement but it is just a kind of expression and peaceful gathering. In particular, the main aim was to request for the release of Rong Chhun, so it has nothing to do with incitement to cause social chaos.”
Chhun was arrested at the end of July 2020 after reporting that the country was losing land to Vietnam along the border in Tbong Khmum province.
Sokong said he would discuss appealing the verdict with his clients. Lawyer Sam Chamroeun, who defended the youth activists, said he would also discuss an appeal.
“We can’t accept it, and I think they might also not accept it. I and all of them have the same understanding that they committed nothing wrong as they were charged,” Chamroeun said.
Yi Soksan, a senior investigative official from rights group Adhoc, said the decision reflected poorly on the courts.
“It is bad for the judicial system in Cambodia,” Soksan said.
|Hun Vannak||Khmer Thavrak||20 months jail suspended to 15 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Chhoeun Daravy||Khmer Thavrak||20 months jail suspended to 15 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Chhuo Pheng||CNRP activist||20 months jail suspended to 15 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Chum Puthy||CNRP activist||20 months jail suspended to 15 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Kong Sam An||CNRP activist||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Mean Prum Mony||KSILA||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Koeut Saray||Khmer Thavrak, former monk||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Tha Lavy||Khmer Thavrak||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Eng Malai||Khmer Thavrak||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Muong Sopheak||KSILA||20 months jail suspended to 14 months, 2 million riel fine, two years probation|
|Seng Meng Bunrong||CNRP activist, in absentia||Two years jail, 4 million riel fine|
|Ho Vann||CNRP lawmaker, charged as instigator in absentia||Two years jail, 4 million riel fine|
|Ou Chanrith||CNRP lawmaker, charged as instigator in absentia||Two years jail, 4 million riel fine|
|Kong Saphea||CNRP lawmaker, charged as instigator in absentia||Two years jail, 4 million riel fine|
|Hong Lim||Australian MP, in absentia||Acquitted|