Three security guards and a manager from the privately owned TTY rubber company, who were accused of shooting four anti-eviction protesters in January last year, were quietly convicted and imprisoned last month by the Kratie Provincial Court, court officials and rights workers said on Friday.
Court prosecutor Hak Horn said that Un Piseth, TTY’s general manager, and security guards Ke Sovanna, Pin Kimleng and Phin Oeun were all sentenced to between two and three years for the illegal use of firearms and intentional acts of violence with aggravating circumstances.
“The four have been convicted and sentenced to between two and three years each. Some got their prison sentences suspended,” Mr. Horn said, without elaborating further.
According to Chan Soveth, deputy head of the monitoring section for rights group Adhoc, Mr. Sovanna, 41, was imprisoned for three years, with one year suspended for carrying out the shooting on TTY’s economic land concession.
Presiding Judge Heng Phalla also convicted Mr. Piseth and Mr. Kimleng, 26, to two years in prison with one year suspended each. Mr. Oeun was convicted in absentia for committing intentional acts of violence and sentenced to two years in prison, of which six months were suspended, Mr. Soveth said. All four men were also fined 4 million riel, or about $1,000.
The shooting on January 18, 2012, occurred after security guards opened fire on several hundred unarmed villagers when they approached bulldozers to demand that TTY, which has a 9,800-hectare rubber concession, stop clearing their cassava farms.
Photographs and video of the two shooters standing atop a tractor and firing their AK-47s were widely circulated at the time of the incident.
Rights groups applauded the conviction, which was meted out by the Kratie Provincial Court on December 13, but said the prison terms—all of which came with suspended sentences—were far too light when compared to that received by anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, who was last week sentenced to three years in jail by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on the same charges.
“The conviction is really strong with the aggravating circumstances, but the decision made on the imprisonment sentences against the TTY security guards and manager for shooting at and injuring four workers are very light, because each has received suspended sentence of up to one year,” Mr. Soveth said.
On February 5 last year, TTY was forced to hand over Mr. Sovanna and Mr. Kimleng after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly ordered company director Na Marady to do so, or else face questioning in court.
Until Mr. Hun Sen’s speech, Kratie authorities had claimed for three weeks that they could not find the gunmen who shot the unarmed villagers.
Muong Touch, the worst injured shooting victim, had to undergo an operation in Ho Chi Minh City after both of his upper legs were pierced by bullets.
Rights groups Adhoc and Licadho said that the trials were held behind closed doors and that the sentences should have been harsher considering the gravity of the crimes.
“The convictions delivered by the court were right, but we are highly concerned to see the lighter scale of sentence, which carried suspended imprisonment,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho.
“The decision to grant suspension is a way of reducing the criminal sentence, which will encourage other gunmen to shoot at people since they will get the same treatment.”