Tep Vanny, the prominent activist who was jailed on incitement charges this week for her role in the banned “Black Monday” campaign, was questioned at the *Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday over an unrelated and previously unreported charge for her involvement in a 2013 protest.
Escorted from the courthouse on Friday afternoon, Ms. Vanny, 35, told a reporter that she was questioned over a charge of intentional violence related to a protest near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mansion more than three years ago.
A supporter prays outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday as jailed activist Tep Vanny is *questioned inside over an intentional violence charge related to a 2013 protest. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)“They questioned me, asking me if, in 2013, I led the protest and caused violence in front of Sam*dech’s [Mr. Hun Sen’s] house,” she said as she was pushed into a prison van.
“I didn’t do anything to cause violence over there. I was just peacefully protesting for justice and for a member of our group who was in prison,” she said of former activist Yorm Bopha.
Contacted later, court spokes*man Ly Sophanna confirmed that Ms. Vanny was questioned by Investigating Judge Nou Veasna over a 2013 charge of aggravated intentional violence for her actions during a protest near Independence Monument in March of that year.
The crime is punishable by two to five years in prison.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said he was informed that Ms. Vanny had refused to answer the judge’s questions.
“We’re not clear at what procedural step she is in this previously moribund case, but bringing her up on these old charges would show again just how vindictive and rights abusing this government has become,” he said in an email.
Tep Vanny raises a fist from inside a prison van outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)In March 2013, some 30 residents of Phnom Penh’s eviction-weary Boeng Kak neighborhood attempted to deliver a petition calling for the release of Ms. Bopha, then in prison for allegedly ordering an attack on a pair of moto-taxi drivers. State security forces beat 10 of the activists and threw others in police trucks.
One of those protesters, Sung Sreyleap, said she had never heard of the 2013 charge against Ms. Vanny.
“Who filed this?” she said, add*ing that Ms. Vanny “never caused the violence” during the demonstration in question.
“At the time, we, including Vanny, were just appealing to Sam*dech [Mr. Hun Sen] to intervene, but the security guards who stopped us, they beat a lot of people and caused them injuries.”
Ms. Vanny and fellow activist Bov Sophea were charged on Wednesday with incitement to commit a felony following their arrest during a peaceful vigil seeking the release of four human rights workers and an election official who were jailed in May on charges widely believed to be politically motivated. The vigil was part of what has been dubbed the Black Monday campaign.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch released a statement calling for the incitement charges to be dropped.
“The baseless charges against two activists is the latest escalation of the government’s increasingly vindictive assault on peaceful critics,” Asia director Brad Adams said in the statement. “In Kafka*esque Cambodia, it seems one can’t protest the wrongful treatment of critics of the government without becoming the next target of government mistreatment.”
This week’s run-in with the law was just the latest for Ms. Vanny. Her activism was born amid mass evictions in the Boeng Kak neighborhood after CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin’s company, Skukaku, started filling in the lake for which the community is named to make way for a planned development.
In May 2012, she and a dozen other activists were arrested during a protest near Boeng Kak. They were convicted of obstruction of public officials and illegal occupation, but released from prison a month later when the Court of Appeal—amid intense local and international pressure—reduced their sentences to time served. The Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdicts in March of this year.
In November 2014, Ms. Vanny was among seven activists jailed for placing a bed frame in the road outside City Hall to protest regular flooding in their neighborhood, which they blamed on the lake’s *infilling.
The group was freed some six months later after receiving a royal pardon negotiated by the opposition CNRP.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)
odom@cambodiadaily.com
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