The mother of a longan farmer who was imprisoned for criticizing the government’s procurement procedures said her son should not have been arrested or charged with incitement because his comments were a true reflection of the situation.
Nguon Ly was convicted by the Battambang Provincial Court in August after he posted photos and a live video to his Facebook account criticizing the government’s policy to procure longan from farmers who were affected by an export ban in Thailand.
Ly was sentenced to 10 months in a fast-tracked trial and imprisoned days after he was arrested.
Kim Bul, Ly’s mother, lives in Kamrieng district of Battambang province. She defended her son’s comments as true, saying they had related events that transpired between farmers and officials. Ly had posted about one official who was procuring longan asking another farmer to switch from plastic to cardboard packaging but then refusing to buy the fruit.
Another, more inflammatory video that appeared to show Ly was also posted online by Thailand-based opposition activist Rin Roath.
Bul said her son’s frustration was in part due to mounting debts which had resulted in the family selling their land to pay off debts or taking loans from others to keep their farms afloat.
“I think my son is not wrong, his post either. He just asked the government to help buy [the longan], and the price should not be too cheap, and to take it after they asked us to harvest,” she said.
Bul said local officials were at fault for asking farmers to start the harvest before figuring out the procedures for procuring the fruit.
She denied her son had connections to any opposition party and questioned why the police did not question village officials to ascertain if that was true or not.
“The government should be tolerant and should not wrongly charge my son to say he disturbed social security. If they do not believe it, the government can come to ask the villagers.”
In August, China banned longan imports from Thailand because of mealybug infestations, triggering Thai procurers to stop purchase from Cambodian farmers. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a committee headed by Bodyguard Unit chief Hing Bun Heang to procure the longan to prevent farmers from losing their harvest.
Battambang provincial administration spokesperson Soeum Bunrith refused to comment on the case, directing queries to Battambang provincial police commissioner Sat Kimsan. “So, the court has already proceeded with the trial. Please ask them, I cannot clarify on the case, because it has already reached the court,” Kimsan said.
Battambang Provincial Court spokesperson Duong Saran only said that the lower court had ruled on the case and the family can appeal the decision if they did not agree with the verdict.
Yin Mengly, the Battambang provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said arresting a farmer for talking about issues in the agriculture sector targeted Nguon’s right to free expression.
“And the authorities have not investigated whether the case is true or not, but turned to crack down on the expression instead,” Mengly said.