After Adhoc 5, Campaigners Set Sights on Activist Tep Vanny

With the Adhoc 5 now out of prison on bail, some advocates are shifting their focus to jailed land activist Tep Vanny, one of 20 Cambodians that rights groups say are languishing behind bars as political prisoners.

Ms. Vanny, 36, who has made a name for herself in recent years with her vocal participation in protests, was arrested in August while leading a demonstration seeking the release of the Adhoc 5, who had been jailed for months without trial.

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Land activist Tep Vanny is led into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for sentencing in February. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

After she was detained, charges from previous protests were laid against her, and in February she was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison over charges related to a protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in 2013.

“We will continue to call for the release of land activist & human rights defender Tep Vanny who has spent 322 days in prison,” said a Sunday Twitter post by the #FreeThe5KH account created in support of the Adhoc 5, a group of current and former rights workers for the NGO Adhoc who were released on bail last week after more than a year in detention over charges widely considered politically motivated.

“Environmental & land rights activists around the world face threats to their lives and freedom. Show your support and help to #FreeTepVanny,” another post by the Twitter account on Wednesday said.

Amnesty International is also promoting a petition addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn calling for Ms. Vanny’s release. It has now collected more than 13,000 signatures out of a goal of 20,000.

Ms. Vanny, from the eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood in Phnom Penh, is among 20 current political prisoners, according to rights group Licadho. Alongside her is a political analyst, an activist monk, two Sam Rainsy Party officials and a slew of CNRP officials and supporters.

“By continuing to hold Tep Vanny, the government is sending a message to grass-roots communities that protests will be met with a crackdown that will see your leaders hauled off to jail because the courts will give out the sentence the government instructs them to issue,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in an email.

In a report released on Monday, Licadho urged the release of the country’s political prisoners, and told of more than 100 cases it had investigated since 2015 in which freedom of assembly or expression had been suppressed.

It says that those who stood up for human rights faced repressive legislation, unwarranted legal attacks and “a crackdown on fundamental freedoms in an attempt to create a climate of fear and silence.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Tuesday that the report “does not reflect the fact,” and on Wednesday denied that the ruling party had any influence over the courts or the release of prisoners.

“We don’t have political prisoners at all in Cambodia,” he said. “But we do have politicians who abuse the law.”

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