The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday began questioning a leading human rights campaigner who stands accused of defaming and attempting to coerce two judicial officials over a land dispute in Siem Reap province.
Behind closed doors, deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok grilled Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring at local rights group Adhoc, over claims he made during two press conferences in May that an investigating judge and a prosecutor had unlawfully arrested and imprisoned two farmers feuding with an agricultural firm near their village in Svay Loeu district.
The farmers were sent to prison in January after the Siem Reap Provincial Court charged them with destroying crops belonging to the Community Takhmao Development Agricultural & Industrial Trading Co., which in 2012 was granted a 419-hectare social land concession in Varin district that abuts the farmers’ village.
The two farmers were found guilty last month and sentenced to two years in prison—with two others sentenced in absentia—but had most of their sentences suspended by Presiding Judge Koy Sao.
Following his questioning at the Phnom Penh court Monday, Mr. Chakrya said he had presented evidence to prove that the farmers were wrongfully arrested, including an August 6 letter from Siem Reap provincial governor Khim Bunsong, which says that Community Takhmao was using a map that is “different” to the allocated land.
“The provincial authority cannot allow the community to continue developing on that land,” the letter says, ordering it to “suspend activity.”
“This evidence that I provided shows that those people were illegally arrested by deputy prosecutor Sok Keobandith and illegally detained by Investigating Judge Ky Rithy,” Mr. Chakrya said.
“There is no element of criminality to charge me with defamation, malicious denunciation or attempting to coerce judicial officials.”
Ly Kimkhun, director of Community Takhmao, has claimed that the dispute in Siem Reap arose after the district border was moved and that he had clarified his position with the Svay Loeu district office, which had allowed him to proceed with his project. Local authorities have not been able to confirm his account.
Mr. Kimkhun could not be reached Monday.
Ly Samreth, administration chief in Siem Reap province, was also unable to shed light on the alleged border movement, but cast doubt over the legitimacy of Community Takhmao’s operations.
“I am not sure if the land border was moved,” he said, adding that the company “doesn’t have the correct license yet.”
Mr. Samreth referred further questions to deputy provincial governor Bun Tharith, who declined to comment.
Provincial governor Khim Bunsong also declined to comment, as did the two provincial court officials—Mr. Keobandith and Judge Rithy—who brought the suit against Mr. Chakrya.
One of the two jailed farmers, Ven Lorn, was released from prison on July 3, according to his lawyer. The second farmer, Boeun Sok, is set to be freed in the next month.