Rights Worker, Villagers Summoned in Lawsuit Filed by Minister’s Wife

Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court has summoned a human rights activist and two villagers for questioning following accusations of disinformation and destruction of property by a development company owned by the wife of Industry Minister Suy Sem, a defense lawyer and a villager said yesterday.

Defense lawyer Long Lun said the court had ordered Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, and Kompong Tralach district villagers Reach Sema, 30, and Pheng Rom, 45, to appear at a hearing on Oct 21.

Mr Sem’s wife Chea Kheng owns KDC International, which filed a criminal disinformation lawsuit complaint against Mr Chankea in May after he told Radio Free Asia that the company was illegally clearing disputed land.

KDC has been in a long-running dispute with 64 families from Ta Ches commune over 145 hectares of village land.

Villagers claim they sold 69 hectares out of a total of 214 hectares of their land to local businessman Hai Hy in 1996. A year later, villagers allege, Ms Kheng suddenly claimed ownership over all their land.

Mr Lun, a lawyer from Adhoc, said a defense team with two more lawyers from rights groups Legal Aid of Cambodia and the Cambodian Defenders Project had been assembled to defend the three.

This was necessary he said, as “it’s a special case because an Adhoc rights worker is one of the accused, and especially because it’s a controversial land dispute.”

The other defendants Mr Sema and Mr Rom also faced disinformation accusations and allegations of destroying company property, Mr Lun said.

Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Heng Luy declined to speak to a reporter yesterday and Mr Hy, KDC’s representative who brought forth the accusations, also declined to comment on the case.

In May, Mr Hy said Ms Kheng had asked him to be a witness for her company in its attempt to sue Adhoc staff member Mr Chankea.

Mr Sema, one the summoned villagers, said he would appear at the hearing, despite the fact that Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court had previously jailed his mother Un Thom for her role in land protests against KDC, while his sister had fled the area after the court also laid criminal charges against her.

“I will show up at the court, although I am concerned that I might be arrested and detained,” he said.

Mr Sema argued that the case was another example of the court being biased towards well-connected private companies.

“This provincial court just pays high attention to speeding up complaints lodged by a powerful woman against ordinary villagers, while villagers complaints are always ignored,” he said.

In May, a clerk at Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court said a 2006 complaint by the villagers, accusing KDC Company of forging land transaction documents, had “gone missing” since 2008.

 

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