Ratanakiri Police Arrest Land Activist

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Environmental activist Chhorn Phalla speaks at a press conference in 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

Environmentalist Chhorn Phalla has been arrested by Ratanakiri police after they called him in to update the address on his identification card, his lawyer said.

An arrest warrant against Phalla had been issued in February for allegedly clearing forest land for ownership, but both his lawyer and wife said he had been called in for an administrative update.

Phalla, 42, has previously told VOD that he has been involved in protecting forests since 2016, and since 2017 he has filed eight lawsuits against local officials and villagers he accuses of being involved in encroaching on community forests. He has said that authorities have taken no action on any of his complaints.

In July last year, he was beaten by a group of people at a public forum where he questioned how authorities were allowing forestry crimes to happen under their jurisdictions, he has said. Authorities accused him of disrupting the forum, then stood and watched as people beat him, he has alleged.

Kham Salong, Phalla’s wife, said her husband was arrested at Lumphat district’s Seda commune police station at 11:22 a.m. on Monday after the couple arrived to update the address on their ID cards.

“I feel really sad,” Salong said. “They previously beat him up, and now they come to arrest him. I want to ask the court to release my husband. He is not guilty of anything.”

Phalla’s lawyer, Sam Tith Seiha, said his client had been asked to go to the police station to update his ID, and that he would try to speak to him in prison.

Keo Pheadey, deputy prosecutor and spokesman for the Ratanakiri Provincial Court, could not be reached.

Ny Sokha, president of rights group Adhoc, said authorities must be clear before arresting anyone, and said he had doubts about the forestry charges against him.

“We ask the Ratanakiri Provincial Court to consider dropping or revoking the arrest warrant for Chhorn Phalla and release him, do not accuse him further and release him, do not detain him because he did not commit a crime like the one in the lawsuit or the charges.”

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