Pailin Provincial Court on Wednesday charged four villagers with infringing on public property because they cultivated 684 hectares of land that the court says belongs to the state, but which villagers claim to have farmed legally since 1999, a rights worker said.
The villagers were arrested on Monday and Tuesday because they did not obey a court summons to appear for questioning. They say the court is targeting them because Pailin Governor Y Chhien also claims the land.
“The court charged the four people with infringing on public property and they are now in pretrial detention at the provincial prison,” Prak Sophima, coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said Wednesday, adding that Adhoc would provide a lawyer for the villagers.
The four people were arrested following a warrant dated March 25 and signed by prosecutor Chum Sensathea, Ms. Sophima said.
Pich Sothea, 47, Orm Sam Ol, 31, and Orm Sam Ath, 44, were arrested on Monday, while Tuot Mak, 48, was arrested on Tuesday while protesting for the release of the other three villagers.
Under the Land Law, a conviction for infringing on public property carries a fine of $1,250 to $12,500 and a jail sentence of 1 to 5 years.
Mr. Sensathea, the prosecutor, could not be reached for comment.
“We sent the four to the court this morning,” Mr. Chandin said.
Villagers living on the land say they have cultivated it since 1999 with the permission of local authorities.
Last month, Mr. Chhien described the disputed 684 hectares as “my land,” but he later corrected himself to say that it was partly privately owned by a company and partly state-owned.