Two farmers at the center of a land dispute that has seen a leading rights campaigner and a pair of judicial officials file lawsuits against each other were on Friday found guilty of illegally clearing land by the Siem Reap Provincial Court and sentenced to two years in prison.
The men—Boeun Sok and Ven Lorn—have been in prison since January, however, and will serve less than two months and less than one month, respectively, with the remainder of the term suspended. But the guilty verdict does not bode well for Ny Chakrya, the head of monitoring at Adhoc, who is in a legal battle with two court officials after claiming that they handled the case improperly.
Two other farmers—Mean Sreymuth and Soth Daing—were each sentenced in absentia to two years imprisonment, with one year suspended, for their role in clearing land belonging to Community Takhmao Development Agricultural & Industrial, which in 2012 was granted a 419-hectare social land concession in Siem Reap’s Varin district.
“The court sentenced Mean Sreymuth to two years in jail because he is the ringleader who incited the people to damage nearly 20 hectares of cassava belonging to [Ly] Kimkhun,” said Judge Koy Sao, referring to the director of Community Takhmao Development.
The four were also ordered to pay a total of 10 million riel (about $2,500) in compensation.
Mr. Chakrya became entangled in the case in May when Adhoc announced that it would commence legal action on behalf of a community in Svay Loeu district, which claimed that the holders of the social land concession had crept across the district border and onto their land.
The complaint focused on two Siem Reap court officials—deputy prosecutor Sok Keobandith and Investigating Judge Ky Rithy—who are accused of improperly implementing procedures in handling the case.
In return, the two officials launched a countersuit accusing Mr. Chakrya of defamation, malicious denunciation and attempting to coerce judicial officials. The crimes carry a combined maximum penalty of 18 months in jail.
An August 6 letter from the office of the provincial governor shows that Community Takhmao Development was ordered to cease developing land in Svay Loeu after a team from the provincial office visited the disputed area.
The letter says that the land Mr. Kimkhun’s community was farming did not match the maps allocated to the concession.
“The provincial office advises the community to suspend development activity on this land temporarily,” it says.
Contacted Friday, Mr. Kimkhun, the director of the community firm, said the confusion over the land arose after the 2013 national election, when he says the district border was moved.
“Before the election, the land was in Varin district but after the election it was cut into Svay Loeu district,” he claimed. “I completed the documents with the Svay Loeu district office in August 2014.”
It is unclear if Mr. Kimkhun’s claims are true.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has summoned Mr. Chakrya for questioning on July 13, he said.
“I will go to answer the court because I did nothing wrong,” he said. “I have prepared enough evidence to prove this.”
Mr. Rithy, the investigating judge, could not be reached. Mr. Keobandith, the deputy prosecutor, declined to comment.