Four Khmer Krom men were convicted by Takeo Provincial Court on Tuesday of destroying a protected area and occupying and clearing state land, receiving three-year suspended prison sentences and fines of 1 million riel each (about $250), according to the Minority Rights Organization.
MIRO responded to the convictions with a statement that condemned the trial, which proceeded despite none of the defendants being able to afford legal representation.
Chief provincial prosecutor Chroeng Khmao confirmed the convictions, but declined to comment further.
Vy Chan, 55, one of the convicted men, said the verdict was unjust because he had simply cleared 4 hectares of land, which he had lived on since 1997, to grow rice.
MIRO said the 215 hectares of land, in Borei Cholsar district, has been occupied since the 1990s, but that forestry and fisheries officials demanded the families vacate it to make way for a wildlife sanctuary.
“However, the families fear that commercial rather than environmental claims could be made to the land,” they said.