Several housing rights groups on Monday urged Sihanoukville Municipal Court to immediately release 13 villagers arrested during a large-scale melee with armed forces who bulldozed and burned more than 100 homes during a forced eviction in Mittapheap district in late April.
Bridges Across Borders, the Housing Rights Task Force and the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions wrote in a joint statement that the villagers, who are to be tried today and Wednesday for allegedly causing intentional bodily harm and destroying police property, are innocent.
“We call on the government to immediately drop the charges against the 13 villagers, who were doing nothing more than defending their houses and families from violent attack,” Phann Sithan, senior officer for the Housing Rights Task Force, alleged in the statement.
Local rights group Licadho also issued a statement calling for further investigation into the part played by Sihanoukville authorities in the violence during the eviction.
“Further investigation needs to be conducted to establish the responsibility of the authorities in causing the violence that occurred,” the statement said. Sihanoukville court Judge Taing Sun Lay declined to comment on the statements or the case until after it is heard in court.
“I don’t know how I will rule until I have heard the prosecutor’s case against [the villagers],” he said.
Sihanoukville Governor Say Hak, who has previously defended the role of the authorities in the eviction, declined to comment and referred questions to the court.