The Mondolkiri Provincial Court on Saturday charged a man with having sex with an underage girl, but a rights worker and the girl’s father said Sunday that the allegations were fabricated in retaliation for the man’s involvement in recent protests against a Vietnamese rubber plantation.
Provincial police chief Nhem Vanny said he arrested Yan Mao, 31, on Friday, as the suspect was driving to his home in Keo Seima district’s Sre Chhouk commune. He said the provincial court had ordered Mr. Mao to be taken into custody for allegedly having sex with an underage girl—now 14 years old—on multiple occasions over the past two years.
“We arrested the man because he was accused of having sex with the teenager,” Mr. Vanny said.
“We investigated and found that the couple had been having sex for over two years,” he said, adding that Mr. Mao and the girl had been living together during that time.
Contacted Sunday, Ya Narin, director of the provincial court, said he charged Mr. Mao on Saturday with having sex with a minor under the age of 15.
“He is now in pretrial detention at the provincial prison,” Judge Narin said.
However, Eang Mengly, a provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said Mr. Mao was likely arrested because he had been spearheading protests against Binh Phuoc 1, a Vietnamese rubber company that has been feuding with an ethnic Bunong community over a plot of land in Keo Seima district.
“I believe the land issue is the reason for the arrest, because Mr. Yan Mao is a land activist and the authorities used this sexual abuse case to accuse and arrest him through legal procedures,” he said.
About 200 Bunong families in Sre Chhouk commune say the company has been encroaching on land they have been farming for generations.
Local authorities, however, claim the families are squatting on a 5,100-hectare concession that was granted to the rubber company in 2012.
Mr. Narin, the court director, denied that Mr. Mao’s arrest was related to the dispute.
“We have evidence to prove that Yan Mao committed the sexual abuse,” he said, adding that the girl’s parents could also face prosecution because they did not report the case to authorities.
The girl’s father said Sunday, however, that on April 1, five police officers showed up at his house armed with AK-47 assault rifles and instructed him to thumbprint three documents accusing Mr. Mao of abusing his daughter.
“But my son grabbed two of the documents after I put a thumbprint on one of them,” he said.
He said his daughter was in fact 16 and that she and Mr. Mao were engaged but did not live together.
“Yan Mao is just engaged with my daughter, but they did not have sex like the police accuse,” he said.
The father also said he suspected Mr. Mao’s arrest was related to the land dispute.
“I think the authorities wanted to break the spirit of the villagers,” he said.