Nine Airport Protesters Released Amid Pressure to End Protests

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Armed guards stood by as authorities dug a ditch into land disputants’ land in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district on September 1, 2021. (Supplied)
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Nine airport protesters jailed last week have been released on bail by the Kandal Provincial Court, with a family member saying they were being pressured to accept the compensation on offer and stop protesting.

Thirty total land disputants on the site of Phnom Penh’s new international airport project in Kandal were arrested last Sunday. Twenty-one were released two days later and the remaining nine sent to court.

This week, following a court order dated Monday, the nine protesters were released on bail and placed under court supervision.

They are still charged with intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, obstructing public officials with aggravating circumstances and incitement to disturb social security. The three crimes can be punished by up to five years, one year and two years in prison, respectively.

In a letter dated Friday, the accused apologize to provincial governor Kong Sophorn, saying they were guilty of violence during the protest last Sunday. The accused promise to stop protesting and participate in the development of the airport project until it is complete.

The husband of one of the released protesters, who said he was on the run and declined to be named, said on Tuesday that the accused were told to accept the compensation of $8 per square meter on offer.

Residents have been saying that they want compensation in line with market values, which is as much as 10 times what is being offered.

The dispute has escalated in recent months as the airport developers have begun bulldozing people’s farmland even though they have not agreed to the compensation.

The airport project is a joint venture between the civil aviation authority and the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation, a major development company run by tycoon Pung Khiev Se. OCIC was also accused of severely undervaluing compensation in Koh Pich 20 years ago as it pushed out residents to develop the island. Khiev Se has not responded to questions.

“We may protest again,” the husband said. “I am very disappointed. Our land has been taken away and we are just defending our land, but we are facing criminal charges and the women have been detained.”

Vann Sophat, project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he has also been told that the protesters’ release came attached with conditions.

“So this is a very serious violation of the rights of the people. In terms of human rights, this is called putting pressure to accept compensation, even if the people are not satisfied,” he said.

Kandal Provincial Court spokesman So Sarin dismissed the allegations. He said the release of nine people on bail was at the request of the detainees, and the case was not over because all nine people were still under court supervision.

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