Kampong Chhnang provincial court yesterday convicted a villager from Kampong Tralach district of disinformation in connection with a land dispute involving development company KDC International.
Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said Reach Seima, 30, was fined 2 million riel (US$495) and ordered to pay 8 million riel ($1,980) in compensation to the firm. Similar charges against villager Pheng Rom, 45, were dropped.
KDC accused the pair of disinformation and obstructing development after they claimed in 2009 that the company had illegally cleared 140 hectares of their land.
“The court should not have sentenced Reach Seima for defamation because the company does not have enough evidence and what he said to the media is true,” said Sam Chankea.
Sam Chankea is also facing a disinformation charge following complaints from KDC, stemming from a December 2009 radio interview in which he suggested that KDC’s land clearance may have been illegal. His verdict is likely to be handed down today.
KDC is run by Chea Kheng, the wife of the Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.
The company, which claims to have purchased land in Lorpeang village in 1996, has filed five complaints against villagers since 2002.
Adhoc coordinator Sam Chankea said the court’s conviction was unjust because Reach Seima was not present at the court hearing.
He added that he had received no response to complaints filed against the firm, but when KDC filed complaints against villagers, the court took action immediately.
“It is very unjust for poor people,” he said.
Reach Seima said that he would file an appeal today.
“The court decision is very unjust because what I said to the media is true: The company really cleared villagers’ farmland,” he said.
Long Lun, a defence lawyer for the pair, said he did not attend the hearing yesterday because the court refused an earlier request to delay the trial.
“We welcome the court dropping charges against one villager, but we cannot accept the court’s decision to sentence [Reach Seima],” he said.
A representative of KDC International, Thai Hy, declined to comment yesterday.
KDC company lawyer Phat Pao Sieng and deputy prosecutor Heng Luy could not be reached for comment.