Activists Deny Property Damage Charge in Court

Nine environmental activists on trial for the destruction of private property in Kompong Thom province denied allegations in court Monday that they ravaged a local farmer’s cassava field in 2011.

The nine members of the Prey Long People’s Network, a group of activists dedicated to protecting the Prey Long Forest against illegal logging, were all charged in 2011 when local farmer Ou Ratha filed her complaint accusing them of destroying a hectare of her cassava farm. She asked for 40 million riel, about $10,000, in compensation.

Contacted after Monday’s trial, activist Chheang Vuthy said he was among about 40 people on their way to the forest for a patrol on the day of the alleged incident when they crossed Ms. Ratha’s field.

“On June 6, 2011, about 40 activists went to the forest to check on illegal logging and crossed Ms. Ratha’s cassava farm, but we did not destroy anything,” he said, a claim echoed by other activists.

Their lawyer, Yung Phanit, said the evidence brought by Ms. Ratha and her lawyer to the trial was weak, relying only on the testimony of her relatives and photos of a trampled cassava field that he claimed were taken at some other time.

The activists in turn accused Sandan district penal police chief Mao Boran of putting Ms. Ratha up to the complaint. They say Mr. Boran was targeting them because of their frequent protests against the CRCK company, whose rubber plantation they accuse of illegally logging beyond its borders. Mr. Boran and his officers have on occasion dispersed their protests against illegal logging, they added.

Mr. Boran on Monday said he filed the case against the activists after Ms. Ratha came to him with her complaint in 2011 but denied motivating her to do so.

“I filed this case following the law,” he said. “Ms. Ratha had enough proof against those people. She had photos showing her farm was destroyed and she had some witnesses, too.”

Neither Ms. Ratha nor her lawyer could be reached for comment.

A verdict is due on August 6.

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