Six representatives of villagers involved in a long-running land dispute with a sugar company in Koh Kong have been summoned for questioning again by the provincial court over disputed allegations brought by tycoon Heng Huy.
The six were initially summoned along with four others earlier this year over a complaint filed by Huy, who accused them of public defamation and incitement to commit a felony. Four of the 10 have been questioned while the six others asked for a delay at the time.
They face up to two years in prison if convicted.
Koh Kong Provincial Court prosecutor Ros Saram summoned three people to appear for questioning on December 17, and the other three on the following day, in court documents dated November 18 and received by the six representatives on Wednesday, said Chhan Chhoeun, one of the six.
Chhoeun told VOD on Friday that he was ready to testify in court as scheduled. He was not worried because he had done nothing wrong, he said.
“I will tell the court what the reality is. Mr. Heng Huy’s company really encroached on people’s land. How did I defame him?” Chhoeun said. “I only spoke about our land being encroached on.”
Chhoeun said 197 families from Sre Ambel district lost their land because Heng Huy Agriculture Group had encroached on their plots since 2007.
Huy could not be reached for comment.
Another land disputant representative, Ith Toeng, said it was unjust for the court to call villagers for questioning based on Huy’s complaint. He had encroached on people’s land, she said.
“The court seems to be biased in favor of an oknha, while hundreds of people, it has never investigated. [The court] never came to ask for the location of the people’s land but instead believed in the tycoon alone,” Toeng said.
She called on the government to resolve the land dispute and asked the court to consider canceling the summonses.
“I asked the court to clearly inspect before issuing summonses for us to see whether we really have a land dispute with Mr. Heng Huy or not, and please drop accusations against the 10 villagers,” she said.
Pen Vuthea, a monitor with human rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said the summonses were a threat to keep people from protesting over their lost land.
In order to show concern for people, the government must resolve the dispute soon, and the court should drop the charges against the 10 representatives, otherwise people will continue to protest, Vuthea said.
“For the authorities, if there are still people protesting and going up to Phnom Penh to find a solution, it looks like the government is not finding a solution for people who are the landowners and have lost their land,” he said.
More than 300 people from Koh Kong protested in Phnom Penh this week, calling on the ministries of interior and land management to resolve their land disputes with companies that were granted concessions by the government, including Heng Huy.
In July, the Land Management Ministry rejected the claims of about 100 Koh Kong land protesters who demonstrated outside the ministry in Phnom Penh, and requested that legal action be taken against them.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)