A rights group and villagers have condemned robbery charges levied by the court against four men who stopped a tractor from plowing disputed land in Banteay Meanchey province.
The four men, who represent 51 families that claim ownership of 113 hectares in O’Chrou district’s O’Beichoan commune, stopped the tractor from plowing the disputed land on March 16 and accompanied the driver and the machine to the Khmer Seila village police station, said Soum Chankea, the provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
The men, however, were charged with robbery of the tractor on April 1 in the provincial court, he said.
The land dispute began in 2004 when provincial authorities claimed the land belonged to the state and sold it to the Chhay Chhay Investment company, Mr Soum Chankea said, prompting the villagers to file a lawsuit against the sale.
Pav Sam On, a police officer stationed in Seila Khmer village, confirmed that the villagers brought the tractor to his station, but he said he had filed a report stating that the tractor had not been stolen.
“I cannot say the charge is right or wrong, but I did make the report to the upper level to clarify that the tractor was not stolen.”
Sien Vy, 44, one of the charged men, said the case is an example of the courts being used as weapons against the poor.
“The villagers are poor people… which is why all those court officials work in favor of the rich plaintiffs,” he said.
Investigating Judge Say Sereisamphors confirmed the men were charged and released on bail, but he would not comment on the case, citing legal ethics.
He referred questions to prosecutor Tan Seihak Dechak. Contacted by telephone, Mr Tan Seihak Dechak denied favoritism towards the company.
The alleged robbery of the tractor and the land dispute cases will be tried in the same trial, he added.