The country’s courts are being used as a “weapon” of intimidation against victims of illegal land evictions, local human rights group Licadho said Wednesday.
In the past week, nine community representatives involved in land disputes in Kompong Thom, Svay Rieng and Siem Reap provinces were arrested and charged by the courts, and six of them were sent to prison for pretrial detention, the rights group reported.
“Community representatives continue to be arrested, charged and imprisoned because of their efforts to assist fellow villagers to protect their land,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said.
“Frequently, there is no justification whatsoever for the charges against them—the law is simply misused as a weapon to try to intimidate their communities into giving up land,” she said.
Licadho said six people were arrested in Kompong Thom on Oct 22. Those villagers represent about 1,300 families who are fighting for property in Santuk district. The arrested leaders were detained overnight at the Santuk district forestry administration office; three were released the next day, and the other three spent another night in custody, Licadho reported.
Two community representatives were also arrested in Svay Rieng province Oct 23, Licadho said. Sum Oeung and Tia Khun—who represent 13 families that are fighting the Koki Som commune chief over Svay Tiep district land—were charged with damaging private property.
The last case involved four community representatives arrested in Siem Reap province on Oct 24. Kroup Yom, Than Tip, Eam Rong and Thoan Thun were placed in pretrial detention on suspicion of “using violence to occupy private property,” Licadho said.
The men represent about 40 families from Tbeng commune, Banteay Srey district, who fear losing farmland to a senior RCAF official whom they are in dispute with, Licadho said.
Court officials contacted Wednesday denied any wrongdoing.
Svay Rieng Provincial Court Director Korm Chhean defended his court’s integrity: “We don’t abuse [the law]; we follow legal procedures. It is up to individual judges to decide whether or not to order detention.”
Siem Reap Provincial Chief Prosecutor Bou Bun Hang said the courts are just doing their jobs.
“They [the suspects] have grabbed other people’s land,” he said, “and most of the time, they formed a community to grab other people’s land.”