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Hearing today in activist case

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Sam Chankea, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator in Kampong Chhnang province (centre), speaks to reporters outside the provincial court earlier this month.

Kampong Chhnang provincial court is set to hand down a verdict today in a case against a local activist that rights groups have branded an attack on freedom of expression.

Sam Chankea, the Kampong Chhnang provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, has been accused of defamation and disinformation by the development firm KDC International. KDC is owned by Chea
Kheng, the wife of Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

The complaint against Sam Chankea stems from a December 2009 interview with Radio Free Asia in which he suggested that the clearance of disputed land in Kampong Tralach district by KDC may have been illegal.

Sam Chankea said yesterday that he was confident that the court did not have the evidence to convict him.

“I have suggested that they show evidence, but they do not have it,” he said. He added, however, that he was concerned for his safety due to the powerful interests behind KDC.

Last week, Kampong Tralach villager Reach Seima, 30, was convicted of disinformation in connection with the land dispute. He was fined 2 million riel (US$495) and ordered to pay 8 million riel ($1,980) in compensation to the firm.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said the case against Sam Chankea was evidence that “the democratic space for peaceful expression of opinions is shrinking in Cambodia”.

KDC, which claims to have purchased the land in question in 1996, said in 2007 it had struck a deal with 105 families to gain ownership to 145 hectares. Rights groups say that 64 families never agreed to the deal.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER

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