Jailed Protest Leaders Claim Police Tried to Cut Deal

A man who was jailed on child sex charges in Mondolkiri province on Saturday told a group of his neighbors on Monday that police said they would help get his sentence reduced if he promised to stop protesting against a Vietnamese rubber plantation, the villagers said Tuesday.

Police arrested Yan Mao, 31, in Keo Seima district on Friday after the Mondolkiri Provincial Court ordered that he be taken into custody for allegedly having sex with an underage girl—now 14—on multiple occasions over the past two years.

However, a rights group and the girl’s father said on Sunday that Mr. Mao’s arrest was likely made in retaliation for protests he helped organize against Binh Phuoc 1, a Vietnamese rubber company that has been feuding with some 200 ethnic Bunong families over a plot of land in the district.

The girl’s father said his daughter was actually 16 years old, and engaged to Mr. Mao, but that the two had never had sex.

Mr. Mao’s brother-in-law, Prum Sokha, 33, said Tuesday that he and nine other residents of Sre Chhouk commune’s Chak Cha village visited Mr. Mao in prison on Monday so he could thumbprint a document asserting his innocence.

“We visited Yan Mao yesterday and he told us that authorities said they would help to reduce his sentence if he stopped protesting against the Binh Phuoc 1 company,” he said.

Mr. Sokha said he also planned to collect thumbprints from villagers who believe Mr. Mao is innocent.

“We will send the document with the thumbprints to the court to ask them to drop the charges against Yan Mao,” he said.

Contacted Tuesday, provincial police chief Nhem Vanny denied that his officers attempted to negotiate with Mr. Mao.

“I want to state that we arrested Yan Mao because he had sex with an underage girl,” he said. “The case is not related to the land dispute like the villagers claim.”

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