Nearly one thousand Khmer and ethnic minority residents of five Ratanakkiri province districts have thumbprinted a petition calling for the return of human rights activist Pen Bonnar, community leaders said yesterday.
Villagers announced last week that they had begun a petition drive to ask provincial authorities and the court to allow Mr Bonnar’s return to the province where he had worked for more than a decade. The rights group Adhoc reassigned Mr Bonnar to Phnom Penh last month after Judge Thor Saran suggested that he leave the province or face pending charges of incitement and terrorism related to his work with villagers involved in land disputes.
“Even though we are people of low education, we are pretty clear about the meaning of incitement,” said Chhouk Savath of O’Chum district. “We guarantee that Mr Bonnar has never committed the serious crime of incitement…. The court judge used such allegations as an excuse to kick him out.”
The petition was due to be submitted yesterday but the date has been pushed back to Friday to allow residents in remote areas of the province to add their names, he said.
Judge Saran could not be reached for comment and has now been unobtainable for over two weeks.
Newly appointed provincial Governor Pav Horm Phan said last week that he would accept the petition, but had not banished Mr Bonnar.
Long Dy, a community representative in Kon Mom district, said that while commune and district authorities dared not thumbprint the petition, their wives and children had done so in some cases.
“I think some local authorities love and want him back because they know what Mr Bonnar has done for their people in protecting natural resources,” he said.
Mr Bonnar said that the public show of support for his work made him proud.
“I truly appreciate such strong support because they are exercising their rights in a legal manner,” he said.