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Court delays activists’ hearing

Court delays activists’ hearing

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday postponed the hearing against three Borei Keila community activists who are being sued by a prominent tycoon in a decade-long land dispute.

The dispute started in 2004 when residents in the capital’s Borei Keila neighbourhood were asked to move out of their homes to make way for a project undertaken by Suy Sophan, who owns the development company, Phanimex.

At the time, the firm agreed to construct 10 new buildings on site to relocate displaced residents, but only followed through with eight.

This left hundreds of families homeless when their houses were destroyed in a single day in 2012.

Most of the families have since accepted compensation or relocated, but some families claim the relocation site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh is too remote while the compensation offered was too low.

The three defendants and other residents gathered numerous times at Sophan’s house in February to demand compensation.

They had allegedly banged on the gate at one point after security guards confiscated their belongings.

That led the tycoon to sue the trio in March for damaging personal property and for forcing her to give in to their demands.

‘More time’

One of the three, Phork Sophin, told The Post that the hearing was postponed because her lawyer had requested more time to study the case.

Sophin claimed the lawsuit was not based on evidence, and that she and the other protesters were just holding banners and demanding compensation.

“[Sophan] accused me of destroying personal property, saying my group knocked her villa’s walls and harassed her by shouting loudly outside her house."

“[Sophan] also accused me of many other things, saying I brought other protesters from Borei Keila, Boeung Kak and other communities to make noise in front of her house."

“I was just demanding compensation. We have been protesting but [Sophan] keeps rejecting our demand despite the protests. What if we do nothing at all? We’ll get nothing!” Sophin said.

Sear Naren, another defendant, said the tycoon had grabbed her land and therefore should do her justice.

“I’m not worried because I did nothing wrong. How about the one who demolished my house and grabbed my land? I’m just demanding what belongs to me,” she said.

Defence lawyer Terk Naro said the hearing was postponed because of the complexities involved in the case. He said he needs more time to thoroughly review the matter.

“I just returned from the province, so I don’t have time to study it thoroughly. I don’t want to comment yet. I need time to study it in detail,” he said.

Sophan told The Post on Thursday that the case is in her lawyer’s hands and that she would let the court proceedings take its course.

She claimed that all the protesters had already received compensation from the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall.

“I filed a complaint against them but did not demand much [compensation]. I sued them just to deter them [from protesting],” she said.

“The Municipal Hall has already given them compensation. If they still come [to my house], I will let the law decide. But if they agree not to do it again, we can negotiate. They all have homes. Why keep protesting?” she said.

Prosecutor Sy Vanny issued a summons on October 16, ordering Sophin, Naren and Em Srey Touch to appear before the court on grounds of “destruction of personal property and threatening others to accept demands”.

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