Nearly five years after Tep Vanny and three other land rights activists were charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with insulting police and obstructing public officials during a protest that turned violent, the four have been summoned to their trial next month.
The decision to try the five-year-old case comes less than a week after Ms. Vanny and fellow activist Bov Sophea were found guilty of “insulting” for cursing effigies of court officials during a protest earlier this month. While Ms. Sophea was set free, having already served her six-day sentence, Ms. Vanny remains in prison over a charge of intentional violence stemming from a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mansion.
Outspoken land rights activist Tep Vanny shouts at police during a rally in Phnom Penh in March. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily) “I received the warrants last week that summoned my clients involved with insulting and the obstruction of public officials” over the November 2011 incident, the defendants’ lawyer, Sam Sokunthea, said on Sunday.
Ms. Vanny, Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy and Heng Mom—all from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood—have been called to appear for trial on September 19, municipal court spokesman Ly Sophana said on Sunday.
The four women were arrested during a protest in which they were demanding that 94 Boeng Kak families be included in a 12.44-hectare plot that Mr. Hun Sen promised to set aside for displaced members of the community. The protest turned violent after police blockaded the roughly 100 women marching toward Monivong Boulevard, resulting in protesters throwing stones at police.
The charge of insulting carries a punishment of one to six days in prison and up to 100,000 riel, or about $25, in fines. The other charge facing the women, obstructing a public official with aggravated circumstances, is punishable by six months to one year in prison and up to 2 million riel, or about $500, in fines.
Ms. Mom, one of the four charged, denied that the protesters had acted illegally, but said she would appear in court as requested.
“We did not commit anything wrong, because we just demanded justice for our community,” she said. “We just demanded our right to live and our legal right to our land.”
The threat of legal charges would not halt the “Black Monday” campaign, in which activists gather each week to call for the release of imprisoned rights workers and a thorough investigation into the murder of political analyst Kem Ley, said Ms. Sophea, the activist sentenced last week with Ms. Vanny.
“We will not fear arrest,” she said. “We will continue our campaign as normal, even though Ms. Vanny was arrested.”
sokhean@cambodiadaily.com
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