Seven fishermen accused of robbery and sentenced in absentia to jail last month have rejected a court ruling because it unfairly punishes them for attempting to prevent illegal fishing, the representative for the fishermen said
A group of fishermen in Ek Phnom district’s Preak Luong commune were sentenced in absentia on July 23 to three years in jail for stealing fishing lot equipment, said Battambang provincial court Judge Pich Chhoeurth Wednesday. They were sentenced in absentia after failing to respond to three court summonses, he said.
Hor Sam Ath, the defendants’ representative, said the fishermen were unjustly victimized for protecting their livelihood.
“The fishermen took part in cracking down on illegal fishing,” he said. If the fishermen did not confiscate the equipment, they would not be able to make a living from the fishing grounds, he said.
Approximately 37 disgruntled fishermen on Feb 2 confiscated fishing gear belonging to a private fishing lot operator because they believed the equipment was illegal and could deplete fisheries, Hor Sam Ath said.
Fishermen refused to give local police the seized equipment because the equipment was illicit, he said. The confiscated nets were smaller than regulation size and could catch more fish than is legally permitted, he said.
The court ordered the fishermen to pay 40 million riel ($10,000) to compensate for damages, Pich Chhoeurth said.
The fishermen have rejected the case and are demanding that the Battambang court reopen it, Hor Sam Ath said.
“The case will be re-tried if they file a complaint,” the judge said.
The government in late 2000 made public the rights to more than 500,000 hectares of fishing waters that had been leased privately. The transfer was intended to defuse tensions between private lot operators and poor fishermen, who said they were forced off their traditional fishing grounds.