Four land activists in a long-running dispute with the Energy Minister’s wife say they were questioned by prosecutors at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court for attempted murder after trying to prevent illegal fishing in the area.
Oum Sophy, Un Mon and brothers Snguon Nheun and Snguon Nhean are from the Lor Peang land community and have been in a land dispute with Chea Kheng and KDC International for decades, with villagers accusing the wife of Energy Minister Suy Sem of bulldozing houses and razing farms. The activists have repeatedly clashed with police and military police.
On Wednesday, Sophy, Mon, Nheun and Nhean appeared at the provincial court over a complaint filed by plaintiff Pak Sothon on April 20.
“I am in the process of questioning,” said deputy prosecutor Long Sitha.
Nheun, who is married to Sophy, said the four activists were accused of chasing and attacking Sothon after cutting his illegal fishing nets.
He said he had told the prosecutor that on the day of the incident, he and his wife were working on a construction site, and received information that his brother had found illegal fishing. By the time the couple arrived at the scene, the brother had already cut the nets.
“The perpetrators who came to fish there had been asked to stop many times and did not listen. We did not chase them. They chased us and tried to beat us. It is all a fabrication that we chased and attempted to kill them.”
Nhean, the brother, acknowledged he had cut Sothon’s nets, but did not attempt to kill him.
“The prosecutor asked why I cut the net and whether I attempted to point my knife at him. I did not use a knife to point at him,” Nhean said. “I just used a knife to cut the net.”
He alleged that Sothon had tried to burn down the community’s sheds earlier this year.
Kampong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune police chief Hy Sok Chan said the activists did not have a recognized fishing area to protect, but aided in protection anyway.
“They are protecting it. It is good. Some people are unhappy because they fish there, so there is conflict,” Sok Chan said.
Lawyers for Kheng, the Energy Minister’s wife, told The Cambodia Daily in 2010 to not mention the minister in articles about the land dispute or they would sue for spreading “disinformation” — a move similar to one made earlier this year by embattled financial firm GoldFX, run by the daughter and niece of Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, which posted on Facebook that purported links to government leaders were “fake news.”