Over 140 People Jailed in Land Disputes Since ’08, Adhoc Says

Since 2008, the country’s courts have sentenced a total of 145 villa­gers involved in land disputes to pri­son terms, while almost 80 others are currently being detained and awaiting trial, according to data re­leased yesterday by the human rights organization Adhoc.

According to Ouch Leng, land pro­­­gram officer for Adhoc, all of those villagers were charged after pri­vate companies or high-ranking government officials lodged complaints against them. He stressed that this indicated the court system was being used as a tool for a land-grabbing elite.

Mr Leng said monitoring data showed that as of Monday the courts in Phnom Penh and in 10 pro­vinces had sent 48 people to pri­son so far this year for their in­volve­ment in land disputes, while a further 24 villagers were in provisional detention awaiting trial.

In 2009, 37 people were sentenc­ed to prison terms by the courts and in 2008 60 people were convicted. Of those sentenced in the past two years, seven remained in pri­son, bringing the total number of vil­lagers currently behind bars in relation to land disputes to 79 people, according to Adhoc data.

“On average they received more than one-year sentences,” Mr Leng said, adding that in a number of cases people received more severe sentences, such as Chan Vichet, Ly You­leng and Khieu Bunthoeun, re­p­re­sentatives of the former Dey Kra­horm community in Phnom Penh who received 18-month pri­son terms in February 2009 for de­stroying property and causing in­jury.

Kratie Provincial Court sentenced the most people this year over incidents arising from land disputes with 13 convictions, followed by Si­­em Reap province, where the court sentenced 11 people, according to Ad­hoc, while 17 villagers were still be­ing held in provisional de­tention in Kratie province.

Another 31 villagers were behind bars in relation to land disputes in Kompong Thom, Takeo, Kampot, Kompong Speu, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Oddar Meanchey, Kom­pong Cham and Battambang pro­vinces and in Phnom Penh, Ad­hoc’s re­cords show.

Mr Leng said that in all cases Adhoc had monitored the courts and had acted in accordance with the legal complaints filed by private companies or high-ranking government or military officials.

“When the villagers file a written complaint against a company the court does not act, but when a company files a complaint by telephone the court makes the arrests quickly,” Mr Leng said. “The courts al­ways work like that, without proof or investigation.”

Prom Sidhra, secretary of state of the Ministry of Justice, said he could not comment without knowledge of the individual cases. “I will look into the cases before responding,” he added.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Tan Sei­hak Dechak said the courts did not detain villagers over land disputes but only over criminal acts.

A “land dispute is a civil case but if [villagers] falsify documents or pull out [company] fences it is a criminal case,” he said. Villagers “should… solve land disputes through the court.”

Siem Reap provincial prosecutor Ty Sovannthal simply denied the courts had taken action against villagers involved in land disputes.

“We only help them,” he said, be­fore hanging up.


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