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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Court upholds jail terms for villagers in land dispute case

Court upholds jail terms for villagers in land dispute case

Two men were sentenced to jail time in a case that observers have condemned as flawed due to the absence of both the defendents


Dr Lao Mong Hay, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Foundation, condemned the court for not appointing lawyers for the accused and for handing out a judgment when neither of the defendants were present in court.

THE Phnom Penh Appeals Court upheld a Kampong Chhnang provincial court judgment Thursday jailing two villagers for trespassing on land belonging to property developer KDC in protest against their impending eviction.

On February 28, the provincial court sentenced Un Tum, 60, to 18 months in prison for trespassing on a 184-hectare lot belonging to the company, and Sor Sung, 55, to 11 years for the same charge as well as for the attempted murder of a Cham labourer employed by KDC to clear the land. Neither were present at the hearing.

Ouch Leng, a court monitor for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, said the two men were arrested in November 2007 because they represented 108 families facing eviction from their land in Lor Peang village, Kampong Tralach district.

The appeals court has been unjust in upholding the

[original] decision.

"The Appeals Court has been unjust in upholding the provincial court's decision," he said. "The company forced all the families off their land and told them that they would be arrested if they tried to rebuild their homes. The decision is a grave injustice that protects the interest of rich people and punishes the two representatives who dared to stand up for the poor."
Chim Vannak, an assistant to the defence counsel from the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he requested that the Appeals Court postpone the hearing because the defence counsel was busy in the provinces, but the court rejected his request and made a judgment without the presence of the two accused and their lawyer.

"I only received information [about the appeal] from the Appeals Court's clerk on Wednesday [a day before the trial] and it was too late to inform the lawyer," he said.

Sor Sung's wife, Chhet Horn, 53, said she was very disappointed with the result of the appeal and the injustice done to her husband, adding that many families depended on the land for survival.

"Neither the village chief nor the company representative informed us that they would clear the land and throw us out," she said. "We want the company to give us back our land and the court to release the two prisoners."

Om Sophy, Un Tum's daughter-in-law, said she was shocked when KDC produced legal titles for the land, claiming ownership as of August 25, 2007. KDC officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.



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