NINE members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party met yesterday with the families of 12 Siem Reap villagers jailed last week in relation to a local land dispute.
Ke Sovannaroth, an SRP parliamentarian representing Siem Reap, said that the party organised the visit in order to offer its moral support to the families of those jailed.
“The court did not provide justice for these people,” she said. “These villagers are the victims in this land dispute.”
Last Friday, Siem Reap provincial court sentenced nine of the villagers, from Chi Kraeng district’s Chi Kraeng commune, to three years in prison each after convicting them of forming an illegal armed force.
Three other villagers were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of illegal confinement. The nine, originally charged with attempted intentional manslaughter, were arrested after a March 2009 altercation in which police allegedly fired on a crowd in Chi Kraeng commune, injuring four.
Sok Kimseng, a provincial councilor for the SRP, said the families should continue to seek justice in the case.
“Villagers have suffered, lost their land, they have been shot at and detained in prison, he said. “Meanwhile, the people who committed violence against these villagers are still free.... It shows that there is a lack of justice in our court system.”
The Chi Kraeng dispute dates back to 1986, when land was divided equally between Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, leaving an unspecified area of farmland in dispute. In January 2009, the provincial court ruled that the land belonged to Anlong Samnor, sparking conflict.
Although judges at Siem Reap provincial court suspended the sentences of all 12 villagers, they will remain in custody for at least a month, pending the possibility of an appeal by the prosecution.
Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, said that “there is no indication that...detainees will be allowed to go free as many face additional charges/convictions, and the Siem Reap prosecutor can appeal all or some of the verdicts.”
She said the charges and convictions handed down last Friday were “baseless”.
“Siem Reap court has not proven to have any evidence to convict the Chi Kraeng detainees,” she said, and pointed to the fact that the complainant, lawyer and witnesses for the prosecution were absent during the trial.
Chi Kraeng resident Chea Sam Ol said yesterday that it was an injustice that his father Klin Ieng had been held in prison since March 2009.
“My father did nothing wrong, nothing that the court has accused him of ... they should release him immediately,” he said.
Ty Soveinthal, a Siem Reap prosecutor, said that the villagers had the right to disagree with the court’s decision.
“It they say the verdict was an injustice, they should file a complaint to the Appeal Court,” he said.