Imprisoned Activist Told to Drop Appeal to Secure Early Release

A member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet suggested that well-known activist Tep Vanny drop the appeal against her intentional violence conviction if she wants a shortened sentence or royal pardon, according to fellow activists.

Ms. Vanny, who has shot to the forefront of Cambodia’s anti-eviction movement, was last month convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of beating a district security guard during a 2013 protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s mansion and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. Ms. Vanny, 35, denies the allegation and says it was the guards who attacked the protesters.

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Police escort activist Tep Vanny, center, into the Court of Appeal on last month in Phnom Penh. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

Mrs. Vanny’s lawyers could not be reached on Thursday, but fellow activist Bov Sophea said an appeal was filed on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Ms. Sophea and 14 other activists met with Kong Chamroeun, a member of Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet who often deals with land disputes, to hand him a petition urging the prime minister to release Ms. Vanny.

Mr. Chamroeun told the activists that Ms. Vanny should drop her appeal if she wanted an early release, Ms. Sophea said.

According to Ms. Sophea, he told them: “I will tell you the legal procedure for a pardon or reduced sentence: You should go tell the person [Ms. Vanny] to ask to withdraw the appeal and just let the verdict be finalized…. She can ask for a pardon or reduction after the verdict is finalized.”

Ms. Sophea said the activists did not trust the government to honor such a bargain and that authorities could arrange for a pardon with or without an active appeal.

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Prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny cries inside a holding cell at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh on last month (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“If the verdict is finalized and the government does not release her, that means she will still face two-and-a-half years in prison,” she said. “Tep Vanny is a victim, so the government or the Appeal Court should pardon her or reduce her sentence and free her.”

Mr. Chamroeun did not answer his telephone on Thursday.

The activists have been staging so-called Black Monday demonstrations for several months in protest against the jailing of Ms. Vanny and others they deem to be political prisoners.

Ms. Sophea said they would postpone the demonstrations until after next month’s Khmer New Year holiday. They hope that by putting less pressure on the government, it will be more willing to grant Ms. Vanny an early release.

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