The Court of Appeal yesterday heard the case of prominent land activist Tep Vanny, while a group of 50 demonstrators gathered outside to protest her innocence.
The activist was jailed in February for two and a half years on charges of using violence against Daun Penh security guards in 2013, near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh.
During the incident, Ms Vanny and other women from the Beoung Kak community tried to deliver a petition about their land dispute to Mr Hun Sen, but violence broke out with security guards and multiple protesters suffered injuries.
Ms Vanny was convicted after the guards said they were attacked first with stones thrown by the women.
The 50 supporters of Ms Vanny yesterday called for her release outside the court.
“Please release Tep Vanny. She was convicted by a court that was not independent,” protester Bou Chhorvy shouted through a megaphone.
Ms Vanny denied the lower court’s charges in her appeal hearing.
“I am innocent,” she told judges.
“I did not use violence against the security guards but they beat protesters causing injuries including broken arms and smashed teeth.”
She asked the Court of Appeal to drop charges against her and set her free so she could return to her children and elderly mother who were struggling to support themselves.
Ms Vanny held a piece of paper with “I am innocent” written on it as she walked out from the courtroom to the prison minivan.
“Only Prime Minister Hun Sen can release me from prison,” she said.
Appeal Court prosecutor Nget Sarath asked judges to uphold the earlier verdict of Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“This was a violent confrontation between protesters and police forces. Those protesters also had bad intentions to disturb the Prime Minister’s house,” Mr Sarath said.
He added that Mr Hun Sen’s house was not a state institution for resolving conflicts but a private property.
“She ordered her group to use violence against police forces and was an accomplice to committing the offences,” he said.
Ms Vanny’s lawyer Sam Sokunthea urged judges to free her client from prison.
“There is no evidence to show my client ordered the use of violence,” Ms Sokunthea said.
“Where is there any recording of that? My client did not commit violence.”
The Court of Appeal will announce its verdict on August 8.