A HUMAN rights watchdog on Friday said politically motivated charges have been trumped up against six land rights activists in Cambodia amid the government’s bid to quell dissent and intimidate critical voices in the country.
Human Rights Watch said the activists included prominent advocate Tep Vanny, who has been jailed for nearly a year, and who is expected to face a review in charges at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today (Jul 14).
Other activists charged over “public insult” and “death threats” comprised members of the Boeung Kak Lake community, namely Kong Chantha, Nget Khun, Cheng Leap, Heng Mom, and Tol Sreypov.
According to HRW, the charges dates back to a “spurious” complaint made in 2012, and carry penalties of up to 10 million riels (US$2,400) for public insult (article 307), and up to two years in prison and 4 million riels ($970) for death threats (article 233).
“Prosecuting Tep Vanny and her fellow land rights activists is the Hun Sen government’s latest retaliatory act in its campaign to intimidate critical voices,” HRW’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, said in a statement.
“The authorities should drop these bogus charges immediately.”
In February, Tep Vanny was sentenced in another case to 30 months in prison after being found guilty of assaulting security guards during a 2013 protest outside the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
HRW said no credible evidence was presented during the trial to substantiate these charges.
The watchdog also claimed the Cambodian court refused to hear testimony from witnesses supporting Tep Vanny’s account that she and other protesters did not commit any violence during the protest.
During the trial, HRW documented incidences of police brutality as para-police were seen kicking, shoving, and dragging activists who had gathered outside the court complex.
The violence outside the court resulted in injuries to two Boeung Kak activists and one pregnant woman.
HRW said Tep Vanny is one of Cambodia’s leading land rights activists who has worked to combat “unlawful” evictions and corruption by mobilising affected communities in the Boeung Kak Lake area of Phnom Penh, where over 4,000 families have had to vacate their homes for a private development project.
Her work on land rights has earned her a Vital Voices Global Leadership Award in 2013. She was also previously arrested while leading the so-called Black Monday protest calling for the release of human rights activists known as the “ADHOC Five.”
Tep Vanny, the watchdog said, was also instrumental in urging an independent probe into the July 10, 2016 shooting death of Kem Ley, a popular social commentator and frequent government critic.
“Cambodia’s international donors should be outraged by this latest wave of politically motivated prosecutions of rights advocates,” Robertson said.
“Together they should publicly call for the release of Tep Vanny and an end to the government’s campaign against peaceful protesters.”