The Pursat provincial court Wednesday discharged itself of a land dispute case over which it said it had no jurisdiction because the alleged offenses occurred in another province.
The case was originally with the Banteay Meanchey court but was transferred to the Pursat court based on a letter from the minister of justice that gave no explanation for the move, Pursat judge In Bopha said.
“I ordered the prosecutor to transfer this case back to Banteay Meanchey court, and I decided to release the suspects on bail,” In Bopha said, explaining that his court did not have jurisdiction.
However, Pursat prosecutor Top Chansereyvuth appealed the judge’s decision and the men were not released, said the suspects’ lawyer, Kao Soupha.
Villager representatives Chhor Touch, Morm Sarun, Chom Chanthan and Chea Sitha were arrested last year in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district. They were protesting over a decade-long land dispute between 170 families and the National Development Agriculture Association, in which provincial officials are involved, said Soum Chanke, a monitor for local rights group Adhoc.
The men were charged with destroying private property for allegedly damaging a GPS device and fence posts in the protest. Eighteen other representatives were also charged with the crime but were not detained, Soum Chanke said.
Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana ordered the change of venue, even though the Banteay Meanchey court was almost done with its investigation, said Banteay Meanchey Prosecutor So Vath.
“The minister of justice transferred this case to Pursat court when the provincial officials asked to transfer it. Maybe they did not trust the Banteay Meanchey court,” he said.
Ang Vong Vathana could not be reached Wednesday, but Justice Ministry Undersecretary of State Kao Sarith confirmed the minister transferred the case, saying it was within his legal rights.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)