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Villages from Kampong Speu province’s Taing Samrong commune protest the jailing of community representatives at the National Assembly earlier this week.
Villages from Kampong Speu province’s Taing Samrong commune protest the jailing of community representatives at the National Assembly earlier this week. Hong Menea

In the name of the father

For some inmates denied bail in Cambodia, pretrial detention can stretch into months, sometimes years. But things moved quickly for You Ron and Ith Rom.

As of 9pm on Monday night, the pair, arrested over a land dispute in Kampong Speu on Friday, was preparing to spend another night in the provincial prison.

As is often the case, efforts by their supporters during the week to lobby Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

Then, at about 9:30pm, the premier responded via Facebook, ordering the governor to work immediately for their release and noting his two youngest sons were on their way to “help with this issue”.

Bail was granted at 11pm. As promised, CPP lawmaker Hun Many and his brother Hun Manith, head of the army’s intelligence unit, were waiting.

“We met them at the prison office and they took us to a hotel for a night, and they took us to eat noodles,” Rom, 55, said yesterday of her “overwhelming” encounter with the premier’s youngest sons upon her release.

“They gave $300 to each of us … When we were in the car, I talked to them about the history of the land dispute … They smiled, they held my hands, I hugged them – they did not discriminate against us.”

“I was very happy that [the prime minister] paid attention to his children and helped release us . . . He stepped in because the court was unjust.”

Though welcomed by supporters, the quick turn of events offered up yet another damning indictment of Cambodia’s judiciary, critics said yesterday.

“It’s disgusting,” said Ung Somith, Kampong Speu provincial coordinator for rights-group Licadho.

“When the powerful take action, the court acts very quickly . . . It shows the court is not independent.”

But Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin denied that the premier influenced the decision of Kampong Speu judge Tong Putheara, who yesterday declined to comment.

“The court followed the procedure that the law states,” Malin said.

Pressed on the timing of the release, Malin said the prime minister had the right to “express his concern and disappointment over the procedure”, but insisted that the court had remained compliant with legal procedure.

Community representatives from Kratie’s Chhlong district, embroiled in a strikingly similar dispute, also lobbied the premier yesterday for help to release three detained villagers.

“If Samdech does not help us, it is unfair,” said Oeun Sorma, 31, the wife of one of the trio, who called on the prime minister to help “as he helped the people in Kampong Speu”.

Sorma was among 100 people from Dorey Pong and Kampong Domrey communes who lodged petitions with Hun Sen’s cabinet, the National Assembly and the Ministry of Interior yesterday.

The group, representing 104 families, is locked in a land dispute with provincial authorities, who have tried to evict them to make way for 998 families as part of a social concession.

The arrests, of four men, happened last Thursday as security forces, led by the deputy governor, began clearing crops and houses on the 312-hectare site. One man, who was blind, was released.

Community member Sorn Sophat said that the group, originally migrants from Kampong Cham, had lived on the land since 2011 and didn’t want to leave.

“We have only that piece of land; please, Samdech, help us,” Sophat said. The Kratie deputy provincial governor said the land rightfully belonged to those awarded the social concession, which he said the protesters could apply for.He said those arrested would face court for clashing with authorities.

Kong Chamroeun, an official of the prime minister’s cabinet, said he told the crowd to return home and wait for a solution. “I will contact the provincial authorities about this problem, but in some cases, it is very difficult,” he said.

Meanwhile yesterday, over in Kampong Speu, Hun Manith toured the disputed Taing Samrong commune site with some of the 72 families that are contesting its ownership against the son of a village chief, according to community member Thhey Bunsem.

“He [Hun Manith] told us that he will work hard to solve this problem as soon as possible,” Bunsem said.

“The prime minister has superpowers . . . He is the parent of the country therefore he can intervene with the court . . . It is no problem, because he knows who is right and who is wrong, that’s why he can release our representatives.”

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