Siem Reap Provincial Court yesterday postponed a trial of nine men detained for their roles in an ongoing land dispute in the province’s Chi Kreng district. Ham Sunrith, a lawyer representing some of the men, said the court delayed the trial of the men yesterday, as one of the judges had to attend a funeral.
“The trial was delayed because one of the judges’ parents has passed away,” Mr Sunrith said, adding that the court had already delayed the trial once before on Sept 15.
The men from Chi Kreng commune were arrested and charged in March 2009 with robbing a rice harvest from land that bordered Anlong Samnor commune. Villagers from both communes dispute ownership of the rice paddies.
Touch Pheakdey, Siem Reap deputy prosecutor, had no explanation for the trial’s postponement. “I do not know why the trial was delayed,” he said, before referring further questions to presiding judge Suos La. Judge La refused to comment on why the trial was put off.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for human rights group Licadho, said most of the defendants had stood trial at least twice before on different charges, such as inciting violence and trespassing, and are already serving one- to two-year sentences for their roles in the dispute over 475 hectares of land.
Mr Sam Ath said the recurrent delays in the trial were unfair to the defendants. The sudden delay also meant that their families had spent their money to come to the courthouse in vain, he added.
Touk Ponloek, a representative for Chi Kreng commune, said villagers were dismayed because they had to wait endlessly on news about the fate of their imprisoned relatives.
“The delay made us disappointed because we are waiting too long for the trial,” he said.
Mr Ponloek said after they heard the trial was delayed yesterday, more than 100 villagers converged at a Siem Reap City shrine to pray for the release of all twelve villagers who have been imprisoned for their role in the land dispute since 2009.
“We pray that a sacred thing helps appease the court to find justice and set free our men,” he said.