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Human Rights Watch Calls for Release of Housing Rights Activist Jailed Over Protest

A child of Boeung Kak lake community's land activists points a poster of detained Tep Vanny in front of the appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Tep Vanny, 38, received an award for leadership in 2013 for her campaigning on behalf of the Boeung Kak families.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Cambodian government to immediately release a prominent housing rights activist jailed on “fabricated” charges in 2016.

Tep Vanny, an advocate for the Boeung Kak Lake community, who were mostly displaced by a conglomerate owned by a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was jailed in August 2016 for taking part in a protest in Phnom Penh.

In a statement on Tuesday, HRW called for her immediate and unconditional release.

“Tep Vanny has now spent two years behind bars on fabricated charges and should be released immediately,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, was quoted as saying in the statement.

“This is just one of many outrageous cases in which the authorities have misused Cambodia’s justice system to harass and imprison peaceful land rights activists,” he added.

Vanny, 38, received an award for leadership in 2013 for her campaigning on behalf of the Boeung Kak families.

She was detained on charges of “causing intentional violence” and found guilty in February 2017. Her conviction was upheld by a Supreme Court decision in February of this year.

Chin Malin, a justice spokesman, could not be reached for comment.

Sok Eysan, a ruling party spokesman, said that HRW was biased against the government. “Although she [Vanny] is lauded in the West she is not a good woman or a hero. She is a hero only to those who serve the interest of individuals and groups that are biased to the West’s ideology,” he said.

“When the time comes, she will be released automatically. We don’t need Human Rights Watch coming to put pressure or expressing opinions to impose conditions on the government”, he added.

Vanny’s imprisonment stemmed from an allegation that she “insulted a public official” during a protest, for which she was sentenced to six days in prison. But once jailed the prosecutor reactivated a series of dormant charges against her for which she was found guilty.