The trial of 13 people accused of inflicting bodily harm and destroying public property during a violent land eviction in April began at Sihanoukville Municipal Court on July 3, with five policemen testifying that they could not identify any of the alleged perpetrators, rights workers said.
Police and armed forces bulldozed and burned more than 100 homes during the forced eviction on April 20 when the 13 villagers were arrested.
Two military police officers and three plainclothes police officers were questioned by the court but could not identify any of the 13 defendants as being involved in the violence, rights workers said.
“They said it wasn’t clear who did what because of the smoke and fire and chaotic crowds,” said Chan Chamroeun, Sihanoukville investigator for local rights group Adhoc, adding that the officers seemed instead to blame Pram Muoy village as a whole. “They said, ‘People used violence,’” Chan Chamroeun said.
Ham Sunrith, one of two defense lawyers for the 13, said he didn’t think the police officers’ testimonies would lead to a conviction.
Presiding Judge Taing Sunlay said he could not say what the verdict would be until he listened to the prosecution’s account during today’s hearings. “Given that they are poor, maybe I could offer some forgiveness,” he added.
David Pred, country director of NGO Bridges Across Borders who was also present at the hearing, said that some of the 13 defendants admitted to throwing rocks during the April 20 skirmish, but that “it was not established if anyone was injured when the rocks were thrown.”
He said all 13 defendants told the court about the alleged abuse they suffered at the hands of the authorities on the day of the eviction.
“Several were beaten when they were made to lie on the floor…a 55-year-old man was bound with ropes and then beaten in the truck, one man’s hearing was impaired because his head was smashed by an electric baton,” Pred added.
Police have previously said that only one villager was injured in the fracas, and that villagers pelted police and soldiers with rocks and fired metal fishing weights from slingshots.