About 300 protesting villagers on Thursday and Friday burned car tires outside the Siem Reap Provincial Court, demanding the release of two village representatives and a journalist who were arrested in December, according to villagers and a rights worker.
Sin Leap, 61, and Chan Leap, 35, representatives of more than 200 families involved in a land dispute over 475 hectares of land in Chi Kreng district’s Anlong Samnor commune, were arrested Dec 26, along with journalist Sin Samley, for allegedly forging documents involved with the dispute.
“The protesting will continue unless our two representatives and the journalist are released,” said Khem Savoeun, a representative of the protesters.
Today, as the court hears the case of the three arrested men, the protesters plan to burn another 67 car tires to raise awareness about the arrests and the land dispute, he added.
The villagers accuse authorities, including Chi Kreng District Governor Kao Sophoan, of plotting to secretly sell the land where villagers have been farming since 1981.
Kao Sophoan denied the allegations Sunday and said the Chi Kreng commune villagers are illegally occupying the land, which really belongs to villagers in the adjacent Anlong Samnor commune. Kao Sophoan urged villagers to remain calm and to file a complaint instead of protesting.
“We appeal to those villagers who have a problem to file a complaint with authorities in order for the authorities to solve [the dispute] in accordance with existing law,” Kao Sophoan said by telephone.
A defense attorney for the three detained men claimed Sunday that their detentions were unlawful because the men had never been summoned for questioning prior to their arrests.
“The investigating judge has not yet questioned the plaintiffs, but he instead arrested and jailed those people,” said defense attorney Kao Soupha. “If somebody accused the children of the judge and prosecutor that their sons are thieves would the judge and prosecutor slap their sons or talk to them first?”
Provincial Court Investigating Judge Nguon Nara said Sunday that the decision to release the three men from pretrial detention now rests with the Appeal Court because of an appeal filed by the defense.
He added that even if the men are released it would likely result in protests because the villagers on the other side of the case would then demonstrate.
“If we either release or detain those three detainees, the protests will still occur,” he said.