An opposition lawmaker was sentenced to 18 months in prison for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and a land rights activist lost her bid for freedom on Thursday as the Cambodian courts continued to hold their hard line against dissent.
Opposition Senator Thak Lany received an 18 month sentence and an 8 million riel (U.S. $2,000) fine for a speech to her supporters in northeastern Ratanakkiri province in which she allegedly accused Hun Sen of ordering the murder in July of political analyst Kem Ley.
The court also has ordered her to pay 100 riels (25 cents) in compensation to Hun Sen.
Thak Lany’s husband Chhun Bunsan, who watched the court proceedings, said he does not believe his wife would dare to incriminate Hun Sen, telling RFA’s Khmer service a recording of her speech was edited.
“I think the recording of her speech was edited to make it sound like she was saying Hun Sen killed Kem Ley,” he said. “I don’t think she would say that.”
He said Thak Lany is living in political exile in Sweden.
Thak Lany’s attorney Sam Sokong didn’t present evidence during the trial showing the recording was edited, because he has no faith in the lower court. He told RFA he plans show a video clip in which Thak Lany gives the speech before the appeals court.
“We had no faith in the lower court’s handling of the exculpatory evidence, and we were not prepared to submit it earlier,” he said. “We will submit it with the higher court. We are more hopeful that our case is better addressed by the appeals court.”
Thak Lany may have been able to take refuge in Sweden, but Boeung Kak land rights activist Tep Vanny doesn’t have that option. The Cambodian appeals court denied her request to be released from jail.
‘Judges are afraid of losing their jobs’
Investigating Judge Nguoth Ratana ruled out Tep Vanny’s request for provisional release, saying the government feared that she would cause violence.
After the ruling, Tep Vanny accused the government of attempting to silence land rights activists.
“Decisions by these courts is very influenced by the people in power and the rich,” she said. “Judges are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t follow the orders from the top. Their discretion is compromised by their patronage relation with those in power.”
On Sept. 19 Tep Vanny was convicted of insulting and obstructing public officials and was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to a protest in November 2011 near Hun Sen’s residence.
Her attorney was absent from the courtroom in what some human rights organizations called an abuse of her right to a fair trial.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
In one of the most egregious land grabs, some 3,500 families were evicted from the land surrounding Boeung Kak lake, which was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling CPP.
While Tep Vanny and Thak Lany were being sentenced, Buddhist monk But Buntenh refused to show up in court for a hearing on a lawsuit filed against him by Mam Sonando, a popular radio host who last year founded the Beehive Social Democratic Party.
‘I would be seen as abetting the court’
But Buntenh, the founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice and Cambodia’s most prominent activist monk, told RFA the court was the wrong forum for the complaint.
“It was unwise of Mam Sonando to file a lawsuit against me with the court in the first place,” he told RFA. “He should have lodged it with the (Cambodian Supreme Patriarch). It’s very paradoxical that he resorted to Cambodian courts for a solution when for over the past twenty years he has been criticizing these courts as corrupt and unjust.”
But Buntenh’s claim that Mam Sonando tried to purchase a position as a lawmaker and an official with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) led to the lawsuit.
“If I showed up for the flawed proceedings, I would be seen as abetting the court to further abuse the procedures,” he said. “On top of that I have never received the summons.”
‘Let’s not make this a big deal’
While the legal sparring went on in court, CNRP lawmaker Nhem Panharith told RFA that Kem Sokha, the acting leader of the party, has indicated that he is willing to attend the next plenary session of the Cambodian parliament.
“I have received information from him that he is willing to attend the parliamentary plenary,” he told RFA.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said he would not be surprised if Kem Sokha and other CNRP lawmakers to return to national assembly.
“Let’s not make this a big deal. There will be business as usual whether they attend the plenary or not,” Chheang Vun said. “They should know that as lawmakers they are obliged to serve their constituents. It is as simple as that.”
Reported and translated by RFA's Khmer Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.