More than 200 people living on a contested plot of land in Ratanakkiri province on Thursday lodged a petition with the provincial court calling for the release of three community leaders who were convicted and jailed on Wednesday over a dispute with a wealthy businessman, a rights workers and court official said.
Em Chan, 62; Saut Soeun, 56; and Chrek Touch, 37, were charged two years ago with using violence against a property owner and illegally occupying another person’s property. On Wednesday, they were abruptly summoned to the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court and arrested, before being summarily tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
The charges stem from a years-old feud with businessman Heang Socheat over 186 hectares of land in Bakeo district that 150 farming families say they have been living on since the mid-2000s, having initially moved there to mine gems. In 2012, the plot was carved up and awarded to 15 other families—mostly relatives of Mr. Socheat— who subsequently filed complaints against the original 150.
The petition submitted on Thursday was thumbprinted by about 150 villagers who had spent the night at the local headquarters of rights group Adhoc after police broke up a demonstration outside the courthouse on Wednesday, as well as by another 100-odd supporters who filtered through the NGO’s office throughout the day, according to Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s provincial
Mr. Thy said Adhoc submitted the petition—which requests that the jailed men be released “on bail” —to the court on behalf of the villagers, as well as a formal request for the case to be reconsidered by the Court of Appeal.
“We sent a letter to the Court of Appeal, asking for a retrial for the three jailed people, to find justice for the villagers,” he said.
Provincial court director Sous La said he received the documents, and said he would forward the retrial request to the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh, but that the petition had been a waste of time.
“We are not able to release the three people on bail because they have already been convicted,” Mr. La said.