The Koh Kong Provincial Court placed seven Botum Sakor residents under court supervision for alleged incitement and occupying state land, after the group returned to land they used to live on before it was given to a sugar plantation.
The court summoned seven people — Pheap Teng, Noy Sok, Ton Lay, Touch Ngann, Khung Roch, Long Moeun and Chhorm Nern — on Wednesday and placed them under court supervision, according to court documents. Only the first five attended the hearing.
They are facing charges of incitement, under articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code, and infringement of state property related to articles 17 and 259 of the Land Law.
The group returned to land in Botum Sakor’s Kandol commune in January, which was given in 2006 to a sugar plantation owned by business tycoon Ly Yong Phat. The group said they had not received compensation for the land and were reclaiming it by building small shelters.
The court order states that investigating judge Lor Krem placed them on bail to ensure they would not interfere in the investigation, would attend future hearings and would not change their address without informing the court.
Pheap Teng, a village representative and one of the seven people, said the court’s decision was an attempt to thwart their protests, and was a biased decision.
“I think that the court makes decisions with a bias for the powerful and rich person, because we are victims and really lost the land and they use the judicial system to pressure us,” she said. “Especially when our community heard that they were being sued in court, they worried. They don’t dare to protest even though they unfairly lost their land.”
Koh Kong court spokesperson Vei Phirum could not be reached for comment.
Botum Sakor district governor Hak Leng said officials had repeatedly said they would not find a solution for the group, but the residents kept protesting.
Noy Sok, who is also under court supervision, said authorities had not helped them with a resolution. The disputants were given no compensation and have instead been threatened with violence, he said.
“They said if I dared to protest on that land, they would shoot, they would arrest and imprison [me]. So our people dare not to protest,” she said.