Human rights groups accused Siem Reap Provincial Court of attempting to stifle coverage of Tuesday’s scheduled trial of nine villagers involved in a land dispute, after journalists and some human rights workers were reportedly barred from the courthouse.
The land dispute in Chi Kreng district’s Chi Kreng commune escalated into a violent confrontation last March, when police allegedly opened fire on a group of farmers who claim that authorities have illegally plotted to sell 475 hectares of their farmland. Four farmers were injured in the shooting.
On Tuesday, the court postponed the trial of the nine villagers, who have been charged in the dispute with robbery and attempted murder. The shooters in the case have not been arrested or charged.
Sours Narin, a monitor for the local human right group Adhoc, said that while a few villagers were allowed into the court, eighty villagers and several human rights workers, including himself, were barred by military police.
“I think that the court did not want the news to get to the public,” he said.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center of Human Rights, said one of his rights workers entered the court because he arrived early, but others were not allowed inside.
“I think that the court is trying to hide the news,” he said.
Siem Reap Provincial Court prosecutor Ty Sovannthal said that military police denied reporters and rights workers entry to the court because they did not ask for official permission.
“Reporters need to apply for permission in writing from the court because they have cameras and tape recorders,” he said, adding the rule applies to rights workers carrying recording equipment.
He said the trial has been postponed until Aug 2 because more people need to be questioned and the court needs more evidence.
Colonel Nhim Seila, deputy commander of the Siem Reap military police, denied that his 40 officers blocked human rights workers and journalists from the court.
“The military police were present at the court to prevent demonstrations and they did not ban anybody from listening to the trial,” he said.
Last month Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana wrote to Siem Reap Provincial Court, requesting that court officials speed up a long-running investigation into the violence in Chi Kreng last year.