Hearing Held for Teenagers Over Stung Meanchey Violence

The Appeal Court on Monday held a bail hearing for two teenagers charged with intentional violence, damaging public property and insulting public officials during clashes with police at a garment factory protest last month.

Meas Non, 14, and Vanny Vanan, 17, were charged soon after the clash near Stung Meanchey bridge between police and SL Garment Factory workers who were demanding better pay. The pair had their initial bail request denied by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this month.

Appeal Court presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng declined to comment on the case or on Monday’s bail hearing, which was held behind closed doors, but said he would announce his decision on January 8.

The two teens’ defense lawyer, Chin Lyda, said he asked a doctor for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant to evaluate Meas Non and asked the court to release him on mental health grounds.

“We have evidence from the organization which clarifies that the 14-year-old boy has epilepsy, and the mother of the boy also said the boy has had a mental illness since he was a baby,” Mr. Lyda said. He also told the court that Vanny Vanan had no prior record and assured the judges that he would not flee if released from custody.

“My clients did not commit the crime. They just went to have a look at the incident and then the police arrested them,” he added.

The November 12 clash erupted after the SL factory workers tried marching to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home but were blocked at Stung Meanchey bridge. In the ensuing violence, two police vehicles and motorcycles were torched, and a crowd of mainly youths pelted rocks at police, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. Eng Sokhom, a food vendor in the area, was fatally shot by the indiscriminate police gunfire and several others were seriously injured, though no one has been held accountable for the death and injuries.

Neang Sokhun, a law student caught up in the melee, filed a lawsuit against Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann and Phnom Penh military police commander Rath Srieng with the municipal court days after the clash, alleging that they were responsible for the woman’s death.

Unlike the government’s case against the two teens, however, Mr. Sokhun’s case appears to have stalled. He was told in late November that the complaint had been passed on to the Interior Ministry but has yet to hear back from anyone.

“I think the Cambodian courts are unable to pursue this case because the courts are scared of powerful people,” he said.

Lieutenant General Mok Chito, who heads the Interior Ministry’s judicial department, said he was not involved in the case.

Municipal court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun, who was handling Mr. Sokhun case at the court, declined to comment.

In September, security forces also fatally shot another bystander when they opened fire on anti-government protesters near Monivong Bridge.

The police also washed their hands of any responsibility for the man’s death while the municipal court has pursued intentional violence charges brought by the police against six protesters.

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