Nine Prey Lang forest activists received suspended one-year prison sentences at Kampong Thom Provincial Court yesterday and were ordered to pay $1,250 to a businesswoman whose hectare of cassava they were accused of uprooting, the defendants’ lawyer said.
Yong Panith – who represents Mao Thea, 37; Meas Koeung, 20; Meas Vann, 25; Prom Suy, 68; Hem Hay, 25; Nuon Kin, 40; Duong Chay, 45; Sao Korn, 50; and Chheang Vuthy, 39 – said his clients found the decision unacceptable.
“They asked me to appeal, because the plaintiff has no evidence that they uprooted the cassava, so I am preparing documents to appeal,” he said.
Businesswoman Ol Ratha filed the complaint in 2011, but the defendants have always maintained that their role was limited to monitoring illegal logging in Prey Lang, the largest evergreen forest in mainland Southeast Asia.
“It is damn unjust,” said Mao Thea, one of the accused, adding that the nine had no money to pay compensation. “They have no proof to accuse us. Forest protectors are jailed and forest destroyers live happily.”
Ratha’s lawyer declined to comment yesterday.
Chhoum Run, a provincial monitor for Licadho, said he was worried the lawsuit was designed to intimidate activists into halting their work.