NGO workers interviewing evictees in Oddar Meanchey province said police pulled their car over without cause on Saturday and tried to seize one of their cameras, the third reported case of authorities in the area harassing the group’s staff in the past month.
Staff for land-rights group Equitable Cambodia had been at the local office of rights group Adhoc on Saturday interviewing people who accuse the Thai-owned Angkor Sugar plantation of stealing their farms. Chan Vichet, a community liaison officer for Equitable Cambodia, said he was driving some of the evictees home in a car with NGO license plates when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in Samraong City.
Mr. Vichet said police asked him for his license, which he had, and the vehicle’s registration, which he did not. He then started taking photos of police letting other cars through the checkpoint, at which point Nhol Vuth, a deputy provincial police chief, tried to take the camera away, he said.
“He tried to take my camera from me, but I did not give it to him, so he hit me in my stomach,” Mr. Vichet said.
Srey Naren, a local coordinator for Adhoc who was also in the car, said he saw the two men scuffle over the camera but could not tell if any punches were thrown.
Mr. Naren accused the police of targeting their car because of the sensitive work they were doing.
“It was not fair for [Mr. Vichet] because the police asked him to stop but not other drivers,” Mr. Naren said. “It was a threat and intimidation, because he had been interviewing the villagers.”
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Vuth said he had merely been enforcing traffic laws. He said Mr. Vichet had no right to take photos of him and his officers at work, but denied striking him.
“We did not use any violence,” he said. “We tried to ask for the camera from him after he started photographing all of my activities. Is he a reporter? We did not let him photograph us.”
Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy, who was not at the scene, said Mr. Vichet and the others were eventually allowed to go on their way, but only after driving to a police station and obtaining a copy of the car’s registration.
In the midst of the dispute, however, he said police also attempted to search the car without a warrant on the grounds that it might be transporting illegally logged wood.
“We know the reason behind it is to stop our activity,” he said. “Now it’s a very bad situation in Oddar Meanchey because what they are doing is against the law and against the rights of the people.”
Last week, police in Samraong City broke up a meeting between Equitable Cambodia staff and evictees at a private home, claiming—erroneously—that they needed permission from local authorities to interview the villagers.
Last month, police detained overnight two of the NGO’s staff who also had been interviewing evictees and drove them back to Phnom Penh. At the time, police said the rights workers were held for their own safety.