Kompong Speu Provincial Court yesterday charged the head of a non-government conservation group that operates inside the Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary with extortion and illegal land clearing, according to a court official.
Court clerk Seng Chamroeunrith said that Chea Hean, 47, the director of the Watchdog, Protection and Natural Resources Organization, was charged and being held at the provincial prison but had no other information about the case.
The director’s lawyer, Ke Chamroeun, said investigating judge Iv Borin charged his client after two-and-a-half hours of questioning yesterday morning for alleged extortion, illegal land clearing, and wearing a fake uniform.
Mr Chamroeun insisted the director was innocent, however.
“My client has committed none of the allegations, which is why he appeared at the court for questioning,” he said. “So the judge’s decision to arrest and detain my client is unjust.”
Mr Chamroeun said he would appeal against his client’s detention next week.
According to his lawyer, Mr Hean was sued by Chhun Chea Heng, the sanctuary’s director, in November 2008 and had appeared for questioning before deputy prosecutor Muth Dara several times since. He said Mr Borin had also questioned several of the NGO’s staff recently but made no other arrests.
Mr Borin, Mr Dara and Mr Chea Heng could not be reached for comment.
Roth Thavy, provincial investigator for the human rights group Adhoc, said he also saw Mr Chea Heng at the court yesterday but did not know why. He worried the court may have arrested Mr Hean with scant evidence of the allegations in order to appease the government.
“Regarding [Mr Hean’s] detention, it would be fine if the court had collected enough evidence to prove he is guilty,” he said. “But our concern is that it is not right when the court just detains him to open an investigation.”