Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Ex-CNRP deputy commune chief’s case heard in Supreme Court

A former opposition deputy commune chief Chao Veasna. Panha Chhorpoan

A former opposition deputy commune chief who was sentenced to five years in prison over a 2015 protest in Poipet City appealed his case at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Chao Veasna, 55, was arrested in Banteay Meanchey province in 2017 for incitement to commit felony and instigating intentional violence in connection to the protest and convicted the following year.

On May 25, 2015, about 150 porters who carry goods across the border had protested against customs officials who had raised duties on cross-border transfers.

The protest turned violent, leading to the damage of seven vehicles belonging to Poipet customs as well as other public property.

Veasna has been accused of leading the protest, though he has maintained that he had arrived at the scene to try to calm the situation.

“I did not incite or order the porters to protest against customs officials,” Veasna told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“I help society a lot and all my activities are in cooperation with society to help the people,” he said. “I always reported to the commune chief and commune councilors whenever I did something outside the office.”

Veasna was arrested on February 16, 2017. A few months later, he was elected commune chief for the since-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Last year, on June 7, he was found guilty at the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court, a verdict upheld by the Appeal Court on March 13 this year.

Supreme Court prosecutor Veng Bunthoeun he supported the lower courts’ decisions.

“The activities of Chao Veasna affected the public order of society,” Bunthoeun said.

Because Veasna was a public official, the protesters had trusted him and followed his lead, he said.

Veasna’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, however, argued that Veasna had only been fulfilling his role as deputy commune chief in charge of public order.

“There have been no witnesses that confirmed that Mr. Veasna committed [the crimes] as charged,” Choungy said.

Presiding Judge Soeng Panhavuth said the Supreme Court decision would be announced on October 2.

Seven others were convicted in 2017 alongside Veasna for incitement and intentional damage in relation to the protests.