The Appeal Court on Thursday upheld the convictions of 11 CNRP activists for widely criticised “insurrection” charges after a protest demanding the reopening of Freedom Park in July 2014 turned violent. The defendants were sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison.
“The Appeal Court decides to uphold the verdict of the municipal court against the 11 accused as valid; orders to continue detaining the accused in prison,” said Judge Plang Samnang, without explaining the reasons behind the decision, in a hearing that lasted two minutes.
The verdict came following an appeal hearing in April that lasted four days.
Eleven CNRP activists were sentenced to between seven and 20 years in 2015, including Meach Sovannara, the now-defunct opposition party’s chief of information. The 11 were charged with leading and participating in an “insurrection”.
There was dismay from the accused and their families after the verdict was delivered. CNRP supporter Uk Pich Samnang shouted: “This is a remote-control court, a criminal court. They only release robbers, but not us who did not commit a crime.”
He said he was being held in a 3.4-by-4-metre cell in Prey Sar prison with 15 others.
Pich Chandy, 32, the wife of San Kimheng, who received seven years, said: “This is absolutely unjust. My husband did not commit a crime. They arrested him when I was two months pregnant. Now my daughter is 2 years old. He did not stab people or deal drugs,” she said.
Sovannara, the CNRP information chief, who received 20 years, was of the opinion that he and his co-defendants could only be released by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“This is a political case that can be solved only when all politicians are at peace with each other. We are the hostages. I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will release us when he wins the coming election,” he said after the verdict.
Ket Khy, a lawyer representing four of the accused, said the ruling was unjust.
“It is linked to politics because the accused were CNRP members,” Khy said. “The perpetrators were not them according to the video clips presented in court. Some had even helped the injured victims, but they put them in jail. This is so unjust.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said that, in any criminal case, it was those who committed a crime that were accountable.
“At trial, the accused said they did not commit the crime, and the victims said they did not remember who beat them,” he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the court sentenced the wrong people and without evidence. He said it was a “ political vendetta against these 11 opposition political activists”.
“The government’s decision to charge them with this crime is arbitrary, excessive, unjust and motivated by a political agenda to penalise them for being CNRP activists,” Robertson said.
Ly Chantola, the lawyer representing the 39 Daun Penh security guards who pressed charges after the protest, said he was “satisfied” with the ruling.
“I am the lawyer for the victims, and I am satisfied and happy with the Appeal Court’s decision to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruling. The decision is acceptable,” Chantola said.