Housing Rights NGO Director Denies Illegally Seizing Land

Sia Phearum, one of the country’s most outspoken advocates against land-grabbing, found himself denying claims of illegally seizing land after being charged earlier this month in a case in Kompong Speu province.

Mr. Phearum is executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, an NGO that works on behalf of evictees or those threatened by eviction.

A warrant dated November 4 and signed by Keo Sothea, chief prosecutor at the Kompong Speu Provincial Court, alleges that Mr. Phearum “forged public documents, used forged public documents and committed fraud” in Kong Pisey district between 2009 and 2016.

The plaintiff, Nuon Phally, claims that Khim Sokhim, Mr. Phearum’s late aunt who died in August, confiscated land from her after she failed to pay back a loan.

Before Khim Sokhim died, she gave the land to Mr. Phearum, the warrant states. Mr. Phearum then allegedly approached land management officials in Kompong Speu and requested the names of he and his aunt replace that of Ms. Phally on the land title.

“After the victim did not have the ability to pay back Khim Sokhim, Sia Phearum asked the land management officials to cut the victim’s name and put their names instead by claiming the victim had sold the land to them,” the warrant reads.

“Sia Phearum took that land title to claim that it belonged to him and asked the victim to remove herself from the house and leave the land,” it said.

Mr. Phearum denied any wrongdoing and claimed the case was being brought against him after he refused to sell the 8 by 16 meter plot of land—which Ms. Phally’s father still lives on—to her.

“[Ms. Phally] already transferred the land to my aunt in 2008,” he said. “This is very unjust for me because I just inherited it from my aunt. Why did the court issue a warrant to charge me? I think it’s a violation against me.”

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