Almost 500 human rights activists and villagers defending their land and homes have been threatened with jail since 2008, while a total of 40 were sentenced on charges of incitement, fraud and intentional violence, an NGO and community representatives said Thursday.
“Almost 500 people were either threatened with an arrest or are evading an arrest as the court has already issued a warrant,” Chan Soveth, deputy head of rights group Adhoc’s monitoring department, said Thursday, criticizing the abuse of the court by local authorities.
“We hunger for justice and the protection of human rights defenders because they do not commit crimes, they just want to help innocent, evicted families to find a solution,” Mr. Soveth said at a conference at the offices of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, a local NGO.
Local authorities, he said, often intimidate people fighting for their land and homes by threatening them with an arrest. In 40 cases in the past five years, activists were sentenced, Mr. Soveth said.
“The government has been using the court system against human rights defenders to break the spirit of all of us and [make] us stop protesting,” he said of the jailing of activists and people involved in land disputes.
A recent example was the case of Pursat province land activist Kuch Veng, who was arrested on May 19 while visiting his sister in Krakor district’s Kbal Trach commune, Mr. Soveth said. Mr. Veng was charged the same day for inciting 11 families to protest a land concession that would have led to the destruction of their homes and is now awaiting trial.
Hang Chantha, who was involved in a land dispute and jailed in 2002 for trying to prevent authorities from destroying her house, said that land activists should stand united in protecting their own rights.
“We cannot accept that [the government] uses the court system to put pressure on us and threaten human rights defenders because this is illegal,” Ms. Chantha, who was released from prison after 30 days without trial, said.