Hilltribe villagers in Ratanakkiri province have expressed concern that local authorities are compiling a “blacklist” of ethnic minority members who participated in Thursday’s NGO-organized rally against illegal logging and land grabbing, according to the rights group Adhoc.
Adhoc, which organized the public rally that was attended by some 500 people, complained on Oct 30 that extra traffic police were deployed on the main approach roads to the provincial capital Banlung in a thinly veiled effort to prevent villagers from reaching the protest staging area. Police officials said they were simply checking for road tax and traffic violations.
“The authorities at all levels in Ratanakkiri province have attempted several times before the rally, on the rally day, and after the rally to scare villagers,” Adhoc Provincial Coordinator Pen Bonnar said Oct 30.
According to Pen Bonnar, commune officials in Bakeo district reported a police officer’s efforts to find out who from his area attended the rally, and to collect those names.
“We think this is a truly intentional attempt to make people scared to take part in future rallies” against deforestation and land grabbing by rich and powerful people, Pen Bonnar said.
Ho Hol, acting police chief of Bokeo’s Keh Chung commune, who was named by Adhoc as one of the officials involved in compiling the names of rally attendees, said by telephone that his motives had been misunderstood.
“I only spoke and chatted with some people at a coffee shop in my commune about whether they had attended or not,” Ho Hol said.
“I don’t think this is intimidation when I chat with some people at a coffee shop.”
Pen Bonnar, however, said that a police office even asking villagers whether they had taken part was “already scaring people.”
Keh Chung commune Chief Rochom Lai denied also that there was any “blacklisting” of locals who had taken part in the protest.
“How could I start a blacklist when it was I who told my people about the rally?” he asked. “A blacklist is wrong. We all know that the rally obtained permission from the Interior Ministry.”