Land Activists Get Out of Jail After Accepting 900 Riel Per Square Meter

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Residents, some wearing masks, stand with protest signs in a Svay Rieng rice field, in a photo posted to Yous Sophorn’s Facebook page on August 4, 2021.

Two jailed land dispute representatives in Svay Rieng province have been released on bail after accepting compensation of 900 riel per square meter to make way for a Water Resources Ministry reservoir, the defendants said.

En Soth and Yous Sophorn were jailed last month under Covid-19 charges of obstructing the enforcement of health measures and face up to three years in jail. They were both previously fined around $1,000 each under Covid-19 regulations for organizing a protest against the proposed compensation.

Sophorn said she was released on bail, and asked the court to drop the charges since she had now accepted the compensation offer of 900 riel per square meter.

“I ask the authorities and the court to drop the charges for me completely, because we did what the commune chief and the district chief told us to do,” she said.

Soth, the other defendant, said more than 100 families on nearly 100 hectares of affected land had accepted the government’s offer of 900 riel per square meter after the two representatives were imprisoned. For 1 hectare, the offer would amount to around $2,250.

The land dispute in Svay Chrum district’s Chhoeuteal commune dates back to 2008, when the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, together with local authorities, decided to use the area to create a reservoir.

“Coming outside like this, I feel happier than staying inside the prison, which was very stressful. We come home a little relieved, reunited with our families and our children, feel fresh and have more freedom, and can go some places, and it is better,” Soth said of around 20 days off detention.

But she remained under court supervision while on bail, she said. “The concern still exists because they keep their eyes on us.”

Svay Rieng Provincial Court spokesperson Tep Phalla could not be reached for comment.

Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said he welcomed the land disputants’ release.

“The release of the land community representatives on bail is a good thing,” he said. “I do not want to hear about the use of the judiciary as a threat.”

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