Four villagers from Boeung Kak lake were charged by the municipal court with insulting and obstructing public officials yesterday following their arrest during a violent protest in the capital on Monday, lawyers for the villagers said.
Ham Sun Rith, a lawyer from rights group Licadho who is defending village 22 residents Tep Vanny, 31, Bo Chhorvy, 37, and Heng Mom, 55, and village 24 resident Kong Chantha, 54, all from Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, said yesterday that the court had charged his clients under articles 502 and 504 of the penal code.
He added, however, that the four were released by the court on bail. “The court should drop its charges, because the cause resulted from a land dispute, but nevertheless, I was happy with the decision [to release them on bail],” he said.
Article 502 of the criminal code states that insulting a public official can be punishable by one to six days in prison, while article 504 states that obstructing a public official can be punishable by six months to a year in prison.
The four women were arrested and detained by municipal police on Monday after protesting with about 50 villagers outside city hall to demand that authorities hasten the process of issuing them land within an onsite resettlement area set aside by the government. Six protestors were reportedly injured during clashes with police.
Yesterday, more than 100 villagers walked to city hall to demand the release of their representatives but were blocked halfway by municipal police. Protestors threw rocks and urine-soaked sarongs at police, before later gathering outside the municipal court until the four women were released.
Residents from villages 1, 6, 22 and 24 were excluded from a 12.44-hectare resettlement area granted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August for 746 families facing eviction to make way for a real estate project by developer Shukaku Inc.
After being released, Tep Vanny told the Post that the court had banned them from moving or resisting the authorities, and warned them that they would be detained temporarily if they did not comply.
“The ban and warning is blocking our freedom of expression,” she said.
Heng Mom said that soon after Hun Sen announced the resettlement plan, her house was demolished and she did not receive any compensation.
“We did not curse and protest against the order of the public officials, we just said what was fact. If authorities or public officials did not do wrong, we would not criticise,” she said.
A senior municipal official who declined to be named told the Post yesterday that villagers cut out of the resettlement area would not receive land titles, but would still receive a policy resolution from city hall. Last week, municipal officials told village 22 residents that they would begin the land titling process last Wednesday.
In a statement released late yesterday, four rights groups including Housing Rights Task Force and Licadho commended the release of the villagers, but called on authorities to drop the charges against them and include all remaining families in the onsite relocation area.