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Cambodia Jails Leading Black Monday Campaigners

  • Hul Reaksmey

Tep Vanny waves her hands from a window at Phnom Penh Municipal Court as she is questioned by the court over the Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, Aug. 17, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer) ​​​​

Tep Vanny waves her hands from a window at Phnom Penh Municipal Court as she is questioned by the court over the Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, Aug. 17, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer) ​​​​

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday sentenced two activists to six days in prison for leading a demonstration in their Boeung Kak Lake neighborhood in the capital last week, according to a local rights group.

Tep Vanny and Bov Sorphea were charged with "insulting public civil servants" for the Black Monday campaign protest, which included the cursing of effigies intended to symbolize corruption in the justice system.

Black Monday was launched after four rights workers and an election official were jailed on bribery charges earlier this year, in what critics call a politically charged crackdown on supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

After the 90-minute trial concluded, Judge Pich Vichea Thor read out the sentence and then immediately silenced the defense as it attempted to respond, according to a statement from Phnom Penh-based NGO Licadho, a human rights group.

Won't 'retreat'

Sia Nareth, a 58-year-old activist from the Boeung Kak Lake community, said the activists would "absolutely not retreat" following the ruling.

Land dispute victims from Boeung Kak lake community protest as the Phnom Penh Court questions two activists over this Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, Aug. 17, 2016. ( Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Land dispute victims from Boeung Kak lake community protest as the Phnom Penh Court questions two activists over this Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, Aug. 17, 2016. ( Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Court representatives could not be reached.

The trial also drew criticism from expatriate Cambodians, including Youhorn Chea, president of Australia-based Cambodian Association of Victoria.

"If people don't love the government, that government won't last long," said Chea, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen should be mindful of shifting public opinion following the murder of prominent political analyst and government critic Kem Ley last month. "I think Mr. Hun Sen should consider this point."

Ear Kimsrang, a Cambodian living in Australia, said the Black Monday campaign, which has been banned by the government, was a "revolution of words" rather than an attempt to overthrow Hun Sen as officials have claimed.

Last week, Human Rights Watch and about 60 local civil society groups called for the charges against Vanny and Sorphea to be dropped.

Allegations investigated

On Thursday, the same court questioned prominent media figure Pa Nguon Teang as a witness in the ongoing investigation of an alleged affair between CNRP's deputy leader Kem Sokha and a woman named Khom Chandaraty.

FILE - Tep Vanny, a Boeung Kak lake representative protesting during the 15th Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, was arretsed while campaigning, Aug. 15, 2016. ( Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

FILE - Tep Vanny, a Boeung Kak lake representative protesting during the 15th Black Monday campaign in Phnom Penh, was arretsed while campaigning, Aug. 15, 2016. ( Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Sokha has refused to appear in court for questioning in the case.

Phnom Penh-based rights workers say Thursday’s cross-examination of Teang was an attempt to intimidate civil society.

Teang, who is the executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, had taken part in the banned Black Monday protests.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor with local human rights group Licadho, said Teang's role in the recent protests — and the fact that he had been assisting with funeral arrangements for a leading political analyst, Kem Ley, who was gunned down in Phnom Penh last month — meant the court had likely questioned him "related to the upcoming election."

It is widely believed in Cambodia that Ley's murder was politically motivated, while the alleged killer claimed it was over an unpaid debt.

Ou Virak, founder of the Future Forum think tank, agreed that the court likely had political motivations for summoning Teang for questioning.

"The government seemed to show that it is unhappy with his Black Monday campaign and has displayed a swift and strong reaction toward the campaign," Virak said.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service. Kann Vicheika contributed reporting from Phnom Penh.

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