About 60 villagers protested in front of the Battambang provincial court yesterday, seeking the release of a resident they say was beaten and detained by authorities in Ratanak Mondol district on Monday evening.
“The police beat Phoeun Khen to the point where his face was bloody, but they accused him of beating them, and so they detained him,” 41-year-old villager Soeung Pisey reported.
The incident occurred after about 30 villagers jumped over the court’s fence and rescued two representatives who were detained in the back of a police truck outside the court.
The freed villagers were summoned to appear in court that day in connection to a land dispute with Keo Saran and Hun Sareth, two men that rights group Adhoc alleges are senior officers with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. When the villagers refused to sign an agreement giving up their rights to the land, they were detained by authorities.
“The provincial court forced us to submit our thumbprints and agree to give the land to Keo Saran and Hun Sareth, and when we refused, they handcuffed us and ordered police to detain us in prison,” Iv Kheang said.
The 48-year-old added that she felt lucky that her fellow residents came to her rescue; if they had not, she was uncertain how long she would have been kept in prison.
“It is an injustice. They [Keo Saran and Hun Sareth] take over my land and file a complaint to the court to arrest me and then the court is unjust, it does not provide justice to people, it just supports the person who has the money and the power,” she said.
Soeung Pisey said that 43 families have lived on the 130 hectares of disputed land for nearly three decades, before the pair of alleged RCAF officers filed a complaint with the court to try to obtain the land in May.
The villagers are determined to protest as long as it takes for Phoeun Khen to be released, he added.
“We will not return home until the provincial court agrees to release Phoeun Khen because he was only trying to help the villagers that were arrested by the police,” he said.
Battambang deputy police chief Kang San denied that his men had arrested or beaten any villagers, while Noun San, Battambang provincial prosecutor, could not be reached for comment yesterday.