The Pursat Provincial Court questioned five “plaintiffs” in the case of community forest activists accused of forcing villagers to thumbprint a document, though all so-called plaintiffs said they had never filed the complaint in the first place, one said yesterday.
According to Hai Hout, a resident of Kbal Teahean village in Krakor district’s Chheu Tum commune, the court summonsed her to clarify her complaint against fellow villagers Kuch Veng, Laing Lai and Loun Sivy, who stand accused of faking documents and coercing villagers into thumbprinting a petition calling on the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment and the Council of Ministers to preserve a patch of community forest.
But she and her fellow plaintiffs knew nothing of the complaint whatsoever, Hout said.
“I didn’t [make a complaint] against anyone, so why did court ask me in for questioning as a plaintiff?” Hout asked, noting that she had actually endorsed the petitioners’ initiative.
Another of the “plaintiffs”, who asked not to be named, said he too had never filed any complaint. Both he and Hout said none of the other people questioned had filed the complaint either.
“I gave my thumbprint to protect the community forest; nobody forced to me give it,” Hout said. “I didn’t go against them; in fact, I supported them. Who faked these documents and wrote our names as plaintiffs?’’
Purported defendant Laing Lai – asked to appear for questioning on February 16 – said he might know who.
In June of last year, he said, he and the two other accused collected thumbprints from 52 villagers calling for the protection of a community forest area.
“I never forced villagers to print their thumbs; they volunteered to give them themselves to protect the community forest because we all use it together,” Lai said.
Two days later, he went on, the deputy commune chief, the village chief and an employee of the village chief went to all the villagers on the orders of commune chief Phem Ghuk.
The three asked villagers to thumbprint another petition – which Hout, Lai and others did – without telling them why.
“[The plaintiffs] brought thumbprints collected from villagers to accuse me, but I doubt them,” Lai said.
“How did they file the complaint when those thumbprints include me, my parents, my wife and children? Did I file the complaint against myself?”
Phem Ghuk and provincial prosecutor Ton Sihak Techas, who questioned the unwitting plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment.
Phoung Sothea, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc, called the events an attempt to silence forest activists.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org