Koh Kong Land Protester Sentenced to Jail, but Not Detained

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Koh Kong Provincial Court in April 2022. (Roun Ry/VOD)
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A Koh Kong resident in dispute with a sugar plantation was sentenced to a year in prison on Wednesday for malicious denunciation, but remains free for now with no arrest warrant issued by the court.

The Koh Kong Provincial Court issued the verdict against Deth Huor, a community representative in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Loeu commune, for malicious denunciation and defamation charges that have arisen out of a land dispute with oknha Heng Huy.

Huy has filed multiple court complaints against protesters who say they are losing land to Huy’s sugar plantation. The dispute dates back more than a decade, and has involved hundreds of local families.

Huor, who was also fined 2 million riel (about $500), told VOD on Wednesday that she believed the verdict was unfair and would appeal the court’s decision.

“I feel really hurt that the court believed Mr. Heng Huy while hundreds of families lost their land because of Heng Huy’s encroachment,” Huor said. “When we lose land or lose something unfairly, why can’t we protest, and talk about that?”

According to Huor, the defamation part of the case related to a photo of Huy she posted on Facebook alongside criticism of him encroaching on people’s land.

Protesters from around 200 families in Chi Khor Loeu and Chi Khor Krom have also visited Phnom Penh to press their case, and in 2019 the Land Ministry rejected their appeal and called for legal action against their representatives for inciting the group to protest.

The charge of malicious denunciation refers to sending an accusation known to be false to authorities to take action. It is punishable by one month to one year in jail.

Her lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, said no arrest warrant had been issued for Huor despite the prison sentence.

“For this case, the court did not issue the arrest warrant. So in this case, [we] will file an appeal and we are on bail as normal … just waiting for the final verdict of the Appeal Court and Supreme Court,” Chamroeun said. “According to the procedure, for a sentence from one year up, the court has the right to issue an arrest warrant but the court also might not issue the arrest warrant.”

Huy, the tycoon, could not be reached on Wednesday, but last year told VOD that his company had legal rights to the disputed area and denied it was encroaching on people’s land.

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