Siem Reap Provincial Court yesterday released nine villagers from Chi Kraeng commune after acquitting them on charges of stealing rice harvests in neighbouring Anlong Samnor Commune in 2009.
Earlier this month, the provincial Appeal Court had upheld three-year sentences for the same nine villagers, on a separate charge of stealing rice harvests from Anlong Samnor commune
“The nine Chi Kraeng villagers were released at 6:50pm [yesterday] and have been returned to their homeland,” said Am Sam Ath, a technical coordinator for the local rights group Licadho.
“They are all in good health,” he said.
Am Sam Ath added that none of the nine villagers were facing additional charges.
The villagers had been imprisoned since their arrest on March 22, 2009.
Luon Savat, a monk and village representative, suggested the villagers were never guilty of stealing rice harvests to begin with.
“The court should not have detained the villagers from one year to the next,” he said. “It is an injustice for them. They were planting rice, so why accuse them of stealing it?”
The stolen property case was part of an ongoing land dispute between villagers in Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes, both of which are located in Chi Kraeng district.
A total of 12 villagers from Chi Kraeng have been arrested in the dispute. Three remain behind bars on charges related to the land dispute.
In March 2009, military police fired on Chi Kraeng villagers attempting to harvest rice on the disputed land, injuring four in the process. A total of 46 villagers, including the nine released yesterday, were arrested and detained for questioning in the altercation.