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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New report claims 'alarming' number of land activists in jail

New report claims 'alarming' number of land activists in jail

The study, by NGO Adhoc, sees a trend in the number of land activists jailed leading up to and in the wake of national elections

Misplaced support

Thun Saray said that “many of the persons who complain to us now actually voted for the ruling party hoping for a change in their local land dispute, but nothing has happened”. He added that many people “forget“ what happened in other land disputes.

IN the months following the Kingdom's July election, the number of people arrested in connection with land disputes has skyrocketed, a new report says. 

"Powerful people and companies help the ruling party by not carrying out unpopular activities around the election period," Thun Saray director of Adhoc, the NGO behind the new report, told the Post Sunday. He added that the period between Khmer New Year in April and the end of the election had been noticeably quiet, with few arrests of activists.

Adhoc's report shows that over the seven months up to and including the election, between 30 and 40 people were  arrested nationwide. Over the four months after the election ended, more than 100 people have been arrested - driving the total number of people arrested in land disputes during the first 11 months of the year up to 146, just three less than the 149 people arrested over the course of 2007. Fifty-five people currently remain in jail.

Many of those arrested were community representatives from land-dispute cases that had started well before the national election, Thun Saray said.

They must complain to the Ministry of Justice and we will intervene.

"During an election, local authorities and the ruling party try to act in accordance with the law," said the director of the Community Legal Education Centre, Yeng Virak, adding that recently the number of reported instances of arrests of land activists had become "alarming".
According to Ny Chakriya, chief of the monitoring section at Adhoc, other big political events have had a similar effect. "It seems like a trend: Around bigger political events, the number of arrests in land dispute cases falls," he said, adding that during the commune council election in the first part of 2007, the number of arrests fell.   

In Ratanakkiri, several legal disputes over land have ended up in the provincial court recently, but court Chief Prosecutor Mey Sokahn could not comment on the new trend.

"If there is a decrease or increase [in arrests], I cannot say," Mey Sokhan said.

Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana declined comment on the arrest trend but appealed to people to file complains over any potential impartial court decisions.

"If people are violated in land disputes by businessmen, companies or powerful people, and the court charges or arrests them wrongly, they must complain to the Ministry of Justice and we will intervene," he said. 

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