Land rights campaigners from the capital’s eviction-hit Boeng Kak neighborhood on Wednesday defended high-profile activist Tep Vanny during questioning by court officials over her role in a 2013 protest.
The case against Ms. Vanny, first leveled three years ago, had been dormant until August, when it was dusted off alongside a string of other prosecutions against government critics.
A month later, Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials sentenced Ms. Vanny—along with protesters Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy and Heng Mom—to six months in prison over their involvement in a separate 2011 protest.
Ms. Chantha and Ms. Chhorvy were freed pending an appeal of the verdict, but Ms. Vanny was returned to Prey Sar prison in relation to an aggravated intentional violence charge for her alleged actions during the 2013 demonstration.
Called to the court for questioning on Wednesday, Ms. Chantha and Ms. Chhorvy rejected the accusations against Ms. Vanny.
“I think the court asked us those questions to try to find evidence to put more pressure on Ms. Vanny,” Ms. Chantha said after being questioned by Investigating Judge Nou Veasna.
“They asked me if I saw Ms. Vanny beating authorities,” she said. “I didn’t see her beat anyone…. I only saw the authorities beating us.”
In March 2013, about 30 Boeng Kak residents attempted to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen at his Phnom Penh home seeking the release of activist Yorm Bopha, who was then in prison.
But the protest turned violent when state security forces beat 10 of the activists and pushed others into police trucks.
Ms. Chhorvy said that during the questioning, court officials claimed it was Ms. Vanny who had prompted the violence.
“They said Tep Vanny ordered people to collect rocks to throw at the authorities,” Ms. Chhorvy said.
Ms. Chhorvy challenged the officials to prove it. “If Tep Vanny started it, please show us the evidence,” she said.