Activist Jailed Over Nonviolent Reoccupation Attempt in Mondolkiri

A local activist was jailed on incitement charges in Mondolkiri province on Wednesday after leading a protest to reoccupy her community’s former land on an undeveloped rubber plantation.

Rith Vanny, 43, who police say orchestrated several large-scale reoccupation attempts in the years since some 500 families were evicted from the Pacific Pearl Joint Stock Company’s 9,614-hectare concession in Koh Nhek district, was arrested on Monday after she and about 200 others returned to the area and erected a number of crude shelters beginning on Sunday.

“The authorities grabbed the woman, then pushed her into a truck and drove away,” a local rights worker recounted on Tuesday.

At the provincial court on Wednesday, Ms. Vanny was charged with incitement to commit a felony and then detained at the provincial police headquarters while awating trial, according to Sum Sophoan, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau.

The crime is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.

Deputy prosecutor So Sovithya confirmed the charge and explained that Ms. Vanny was guilty of incitement because she had encouraged the evictees to grab Pacific Pearl’s land.

The company was granted its economic land concession in 2009 but has yet to begin cultivating rubber. Locals say some of the aggrieved families moved to the area in 2008 but admit that none of the families has titles to the land.

Dozens of evictees gathered outside the provincial police headquarters on Wednesday morning, demanding Ms. Vanny’s release from custody, but they were stopped from marching to the courthouse by a contingent of police and military officers, according to Em Moeun, who claims he staked out a 5-hectare plot on the disputed land in 2009.

The same group of evictees rallied outside the provincial hall on Tuesday.

“We plan to travel to Phnom Penh next week to submit a petition and letter to the Ministry of Land Management and the Ministry of Justice to ask them to help release our representative,” Mr. Moeun said.

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