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One Year On: Cambodia must immediately release Tep Vanny

On the one-year anniversary of her detention, civil society condemns the unjust imprisonment of land activist and human rights defender Tep Vanny and calls for her immediate and unconditional release #FreeTepVanny.

Detained Cambodian land activist, Tep Vanny, center, from the Boeung Kak lake community is escorted by court security during a hearing at Appeals Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.
Detained Cambodian land activist, Tep Vanny, center, from the Boeung Kak lake community is escorted by court security during a hearing at Appeals Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

We, the undersigned, condemn the arbitrary imprisonment of land activist and human rights defender Tep Vanny, who as of tomorrow (15 August) will have been imprisoned for one year for defending her community and exercising her human rights. We call for her convictions to be overturned; for all ongoing politically motivated and unsubstantiated charges against her to be dropped; and for her immediate release from prison.

One of Cambodia's most prominent human rights defenders, Tep Vanny has fought tirelessly to protect the rights of members of the Boeung Kak Lake community, following their forced eviction from their homes in Phnom Penh. More recently, she played a leading role in the so-called 'Black Monday' campaign, challenging the arbitrary pre-trial detention of five human rights defenders (“HRDs”), Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Ny Chakrya (the “Freethe5KH” detainees). On 22 August 2016, following her arrest at a protest that called for the release of the five, Tep Vanny was convicted of 'insulting of a public official', and sentenced to six days in prison. However, instead of releasing her based on time served, the authorities reactivated dormant charges dating back to a 2013 protest and kept her in detention.

In September 2016, she, along with two other Boeung Kak activists, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for 'insulting and obstructing public officials' in relation to a peaceful protest in 2011 related to the Boeung Kak lake land dispute, despite the absence of credible inculpatory evidence. On 23 February 2017, following proceedings which fell short of fair trial standards, Tep Vanny was convicted of "intentional violence with aggravating circumstances" and sentenced to 30 months in prison and given fines totaling more than 14 million riel (about $3,500 USD – or twice the annual minimum wage in Cambodia) for having peacefully participated in protests calling for the release of her fellow activist Yorm Bopha, back in 2013. On 27 February, her September 2016 conviction was affirmed on appeal. While the #FreeThe5KH HRDs human rights defenders were released on bail on 29 June 2017, after having spent 427 days in arbitrary detention, Tep Vanny remains in prison. She is currently on trial in a third reactivated case, facing charges of “public insult” and “death threats” after the prosecutor decided to pursue criminal charges based on a complaint which was made and subsequently withdrawn by a fellow community member. On 8 August 2017, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeals upheld her February 2017 conviction.

It is clear that the authorities are using the courts to lock me up, silence my freedom of expression and break my spirit. They want to stop me from advocating and seeking a solution for the remaining people from Boeung Kak Lake as well as other campaigns to demand justice in our society. I would like to call on the authorities to please stop harassing me […]. Now my mother and children really need me, just like the families of people in authority need to be together. The time has come to give me justice and set me free.
Ms. Tep Vanny

Human rights defenders, like any other person, should enjoy all the fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, to which Cambodia is a State Party. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the right to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the duty of all states to allow them to work peacefully and safely, and to protect them from arrest, violence, threats, retaliation and any discrimination. In 2013 the UN General Assembly specifically recognized the valuable work of women human rights defenders, and the systemic and structural discrimination and violence they face, and called on States to ensure they can perform their important role.

Yet, despite the existing domestic and international protections, human rights defenders are regularly subject to harassment through the criminal judicial system in Cambodia. In particular, the use of suspended sentences or the arbitrary resurrection of dormant charges to intimidate human rights defenders and deter them from further activities are commonly used tactic by the authorities. Tep Vanny's current detention is only the latest in a series of acts of judicial harassment against her, in an effort to silence her, and contributes to creating an atmosphere of fear for human rights defenders throughout Cambodia. As a result of her imprisonment, Tep Vanny is prevented from carrying out her peaceful and valuable work as a woman human rights defender. Peaceful protest and expressions of dissent are not a crime, and human rights defenders should not be penalized for the exercise of their human rights.

Tep Vanny is innocent. She is a woman who is greatly committed to fulfilling her duty as a citizen. Yet, she has been imprisoned three times already, because of the Cambodian judicial system. Tep Vanny is the only woman activist in Cambodia who has been imprisoned and arrested so many times. This is very unjust for her; her children have to live without the mother’s care for one year. However, even with all the threats, her will remains unchanged.
Song Sreyleap, Boeung Kak Lake community activist

We call on the Cambodian authorities to take immediate measures to quash the convictions of Tep Vanny; to release her from prison immediately and unconditionally; and to cease their harassment of Ms. Tep Vanny and other Boeung Kak Lake activists through arrests, prosecution and imprisonment.

Signed,

Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Digital Rights Foundation
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom Forum
Free Media Movement
Globe International Center
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
International Press Centre (IPC)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Norwegian PEN
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
SFLC.in
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
Free Media Movement

Amnesty International
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
Boeung Bram community
Boeung Chhouk Community
Boeung Kak Community
Boeung Trabek Community
CamASEAN Youth's Future
Cambodia Development People Life Association (CDPLA)
Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association (CIYA)
Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions (CATU)
Cambodian Domestic Workers Network (CDWN)
Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA)
Cambodian Informal Economic Workers Association (CIEWA)
Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights
Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
Equitable Cambodia (EC)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defender
Forum-Asia
Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
Independent Monk Network for Social Justice (IMNSJ)
Indigenous Youth at Brome Commune, Preah Vihear Province
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA)
Kuoy Ethnic Community, Prame Village, Preah Vihear Province
Land Community, Prek Chik Village, Chikhor Kraom Commune, Koh Kong Province
Land Conflict Community, Krenh Village, Pailin Province
Land Conflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap
Lor Peang community,Kampong Chhnang Province
Ponlok Khmer
Railway Station, Toul Sangkae A community
Reach Sey Samaky Land Community Romchek Village, Battambang
Samakum Teang Tnaut (STT)
SOS International Airport Community
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
The Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
The Asia Democracy Network
The Building and Wood Workers Trade Union (BWTU)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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