Sihanoukville Municipal Court on Wednesday sentenced nine villagers and acquitted five for their alleged roles in violence during a forced eviction in Mittapheap district in late April, officials said.
The two-day trial of the villagers, who were accused of injuring police and damaging public property, concluded with seven people sentenced to 75 days and two given eight months from the time of their arrest, officials with local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc said.
Rights workers protested the ruling, saying there was no evidence to support the allegations against the villagers, and that the security forces involved in the violent eviction should also have stood trial.
The 13 villagers were arrested after police and military police bulldozed and burned more than 100 homes April 20.
The seven people sentenced to 75 days for crimes including damaging property or conspiring to cause bodily harm have already served that time in pre-trial detention. The two sentenced to eight months, four months of which will be suspended, were found guilty of committing battery with injury and causing damage to property.
Manfred Hornung, a legal consultant at Licadho, whose lawyers represent the villagers, expressed relief that they were not given longer sentences.
“[There was] simply no evidence at all to link the individuals to the crimes they were said to have committed,” Hornung said.
Presiding Judge Taing Sun Lay said he had taken pity on the suspects and gave them mild sentences. “[Policemen] received small injuries,” he said, adding that the villagers were poor and for most of them it was a first offense.
“Police witnesses also could not single out exactly who did what,” he said.
David Pred, country director of the NGO Bridges Across Borders, said the authorities involved in the dispute should also have stood trial.
“We are deeply troubled that the authorities who perpetrated gross abuses of human rights on that day, and those who ordered the illegal eviction that precipitated the violence and rendered more than 100 families homeless are not facing prosecution for their criminal acts,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Prosecutor Leav Sreng could not be reached for comment.