Environmental activist Kroeung Tola plans to appeal the Mondulkiri Provincial Court decision ordering him to pay 40 million riel ($10,000) in compensation to O’Raing district governor Siek Mony and four million riel to the state for public defamation.
The provincial court’s January 19 decision came after Mony sued Tola over a Facebook post that said the former was involved with attempts to encroach on 300ha of protected forest in O’Raing district.
Tola, who is of Bunong ethnicity according to the court’s records, claimed he had received information from residents in the area that Mony was involved in the clearing of the 300ha and that he had conspired with other officials.
“I don’t think the Mondulkiri Provincial Court’s judge and prosecutors had investigated thoroughly enough to be able to reach the conclusion that what I posted was false. I’m only trying to protect public land, which is state property, but I’m being punished for it.
“I am preparing to file an appeal, but I cannot confirm how soon that will happen,” he said.
O’Raing district governor Siek Mony could not be reached for comment on January 21.
Mony’s lawyer San Sopha claimed that Tola had indeed committed public defamation because he did not provide clear evidence of the alleged corruption such as witnesses or documents to confirm that Mony had any connection to the 300ha.
Sopha said Tola was aware that the O’Raing district administration had refuted these accusations but he still would not accept it and insisted that his actions were correct.
He asked the court to punish Tola to the fullest extent of the law. He said he had initially demanded $200,000 in compensation for his client.
The provincial court records detailed that Tola’s conviction stemmed from statements he had made in Sen Monorom town’s Sokdum commune on January 31, last year. He was charged under Article 304 of the Criminal Code.
The case was heard in court on December 17, last year, in the presence of Tola and the absence of Mony.
Pen Bonnar, local community empowerment officer for rights group Adhoc, said Mondulkiri province was the site of many land disputes and a large number of encroachments on state land.
He said he had heard the situation was being examined by the ministries of Interior and Environment, as well as other relevant authorities who are working to identify the perpetrators. The authorities have not ruled out the possibility of involvement by senior provincial officials.
Bonnar said he did not know for certain who was responsible but the case must be thoroughly investigated because there have been many troubling reports from residents who are more familiar with the situation on the ground.
“Prosecutors and judges must thoroughly investigate before making any decisions; otherwise it violates the rights of the defendant and does an injustice to those like Tola who are loyal to the national interests.
“I think Tola should search for additional evidence and if he finds any he can present it to the Appeal Court,” he said.