World Bulletin / News Desk
The Cambodia Daily reported Monday that the presiding judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court scrapped the Article 495 charge of “incitement to commit felony”, which was leveled against Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea on Aug. 17 after they were arrested for staging a peaceful “Black Monday” protest against the jailing of five other human rights defenders.
He instead charged them under Article 502 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code, which defines the crime of “insult” as consisting of “words, gestures, written documents, pictures or objects liable to undermine the dignity of a person”.
The offence carries a prison sentence of between one and six days and fines of up to $24.
The pair was fined $20, the Daily said, and jailed for six days. They were detained ahead of trial last Wednesday.
Had the previous charge been upheld, the pair was facing far stiffer prison sentences in the event of being convicted; from between six months to two years behind bars.
“Black Monday” protests emerged in the wake of the jailing of four human rights workers and an election body official who were accused in May of bribing a woman who was having an affair with the deputy leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
All five claim they were simply providing legal assistance and financial support.
Last week’s protest also included calls for the courts to properly investigate the July assassination of government critic Kem Ley.
A man was arrested after the killing, but allegations have been made that he was a hired hitman.
Political analyst Ou Virak told Anadolu Agency on Monday that the case was simply the latest “symptom of a bigger disease” plaguing Cambodia’s judicial system.
“It’s known that the court is under the influence of the executive and so the court’s behavior is not surprising in this context,” he said, adding that there have been similar cases against women from the same community that make it look like “an exercise”.
“I don’t think the court is buying it. You have these cases where they make convictions within an hour and nobody is going to argue that it is the proper procedure. There’s a lack of credibility within the court system.”
A Spanish academic who attended a protest to release Vanny and Sophea was deported last week.