Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Supreme Court upholds Poipet commune chief’s imprisonment

A former opposition deputy commune chief Chao Veasna. Panha Chhorpoan

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a former CNRP commune chief’s five-year jail sentence in relation to a 2015 protest in front of the Poipet Customs Department building in Banteay Meanchey province.

Chao Veasna, 55, was arrested on February 16, 2017 and charged by the provincial court with incitement to commit a felony and instigating intentional violence in connection with the protest.

Presiding Judge Soeng Panhavuth on Wednesday upheld the Appeal Court’s March 13 decision after hearing from the prosecutor and defense. He did not explain his decision.

On May 25, 2015, about 150 porters who carry goods across the border with Thailand held a protest against customs officers at the Poipet checkpoint over increased taxes.

The protest resulted in violence between the porters and police and caused damage to seven vehicles belonging to Poipet Customs and Excise Department and other public property.

Veasna, who was present at the protest, was accused of instigating the violence. He has argued that he was there to try to calm the situation.

The former opposition commune chief was sentence to five years in prison on June 7, 2018.

Veasna’s lawyer, Chuong Choungy, said he and his client would consider filing a complaint to review the case.

Veasna had tried to negotiate with the protesters on the day and was not responsible for the violence, Choungy said.

Supreme Court prosecutor Veng Bunthoeun declined to comment on Wednesday, but said during the case’s Sept. 18 hearing that witnesses presented in the lower courts were enough to convict Veasna.

During that hearing, Veasna again denied committing any crime.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, said it was rare for the courts to acquit any political activist even if there was insufficient evidence.

“We’ve seen that the courts rarely pay attention to finding justice for them,” Senkaruna said, noting that it was a frequent criticism of the Cambodian justice system from national and international NGOs.

“Poor people and activists involved in human rights, land and politics always receive injustice,” Senkaruna said.

Veasna was deputy chief of Poipet City’s Poipet commune in 2015, and was elected commune chief in the 2017 commune elections with a large majority.