More than 200 residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake gathered outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday as four villagers who filed complaints after their homes were demolished by real estate developer Shukaku Inc last month responded to summonses for questioning.
A fifth villager, Tep Vanny – at court to answer questions related to a defamation suit brought against her by Phnom Penh attorney Suong Sophal – said that deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun refused to question her unless she could get the crowd to disperse, going so far as to give her 10,000 riel for a moto taxi home. Sok Roeun was not available for comment.
The four villagers summonsed regarding the Shukaku complaint, and a number of protesters who joined them, were dressed as Buddhist nuns, their mouths covered with medical masks marked with an X.
Vanny said that the white outfits were meant to show that they were good people that had done no wrong, while the masks symbolised Cambodia’s lack of freedom of expression.
“The powerful people and the rich always win because the authorities support them, and the poor always get summonsed,” Tep Vanny said.
“Why is justice not for poor people?”
Doung Kea, one of the complainants against Shukaku, said that he wants Prime Minister Hun Sen to review the villagers claim that they should be part of the 12.44-hectare allotment promised in August to some 779 lakeside families, adding that he was worried he would not be allowed to vote in the 2013 national election if he did not have an established residence.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said it is all too common for Cambodia’s powerful to use the courts to pressure people in land disputes.
Attorney Suong Sophal, who has filed defamation complaints against Tep Vanny and one other villager, could not be reached for comment.