Four villagers involved in the long-running land dispute at Boeung Kak lake appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday in connection to allegations that they insulted and obstructed authorities during a protest last November.
On November 28, the four villagers – Tep Vanny, Bo Chhor, Heng Mom and Kong Chan – were arrested and detained by capital police after protesting with about 50 other villagers outside city hall.
The group was demanding that the government hasten the process of issuing them land within an onsite resettlement area set aside by the government.
The following day, the women were charged under articles 502 and 504 of the penal code, which state that “insulting” or “obstructing” a public official is punishable by up to one year in jail.
While only detained for a night in jail, the women were banned from moving their homes or participating in future protests.
Outside court yesterday, the four villagers, clad in traditional r dress and carrying Buddhist statues, were flanked by more than 100 supporters, who also carried with them Buddhist pictures and banners and who demanded that the court drop the charges against their fellow residents.
The four accused spoke to the crowd and suggested that being punished by authorities for staging a protest to protect one’s home was akin to being “shot to death”.
After emerging from the courthouse after two hours of questioning, Tep Vanny reported that the court did not add any charges to their case or pressure them, but that “the accusations and bans…are still valid for the four of us”.
While releasing caged birds, Heng Mom said that she and her fellow accused deserved to be just as free.
Investigating judge Chhe Virak could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Ham Sun Rith, a lawyer for rights group Licadho who is defending the four women, said he was “excited” that the villagers showed so much support for his clients.