The Kratie Provincial Court on Monday released on bail the eight villagers arrested after security forces fired on protesters there last week, but preliminarily charged them with using violence against officials, blocking a road and damaging property.
Initial claims by villagers that the security personnel killed at least two villagers when they opened fire last week remained unconfirmed on Monday, and officials have blocked rights groups and The Post from access to the area where the protest – spurred by evictions resulting from a land dispute with the Memot Rubber Plantation – took place.
Post reporters spoke to scores of local residents, who said they had only heard of the deaths secondhand. Villagers identified two individuals who were shot, but they were only injured and not killed. Rights group Licadho has confirmed a third individual received a flesh wound and had been treated by their doctors.
Eight individuals were arrested following the protest, one of whom is receiving treatment in hospital. Court and police officials have been reluctant to discuss the arrests, the charges they face or even their release on Monday.
However, two of the detainees confirmed that the seven who were in detention had been released, subject to court supervision. Vem Duy, a 64-year-old villager, said he and the others were released on Monday afternoon. Duy maintained that he wasn’t part of the protest, but was beaten by security forces.
“They grabbed my hair, dragged and kicked me. I got some bruises on my buttock,” he said.
The court had asked the detainees to thumbprint agreements telling them to stop occupying Memot Rubber Plantation’s land, and saying that they would be arrested again if they did so.
Fellow detainee Poung Phal, 36, said that he was unsure why they were released but that he was happy to leave prison.
“The court has freed us temporarily, and once a month we need to meet them. In the future, we are afraid to join the protest because they said if they spot us again, they will jail us,” he said.
Investigating Judge Eng Chamnab said the eight remain charged with “blocking the road, destroying property and using violence on the public officials”, but declined to comment further.
A police report yesterday showed the names of all eight detainees, information court and police officials have been reluctant to divulge. In addition to Duy and Phal, the eight include Vin Huy, 37; Leak Sat, 44; Vorn Van, 36; Kim Nai, 23; Hang Pov, 55; and Buth Vorn, 55. Vorn is in hospital with a broken arm.
The document also shows the police recommending the detainees be charged with intentional violence, incitement and blocking a road.
UN investigators were also blocked from accessing the protest site, and visiting UN Speial Rapporteur Rhona Smith raised the shootings with Interior Minister Sar Kheng in a meeting on Monday. She told reporters Kheng said a ministerial team was investigating the case but had not reported back to him.
“[H]e said that they had sent a team to investigate but they had not reported back to him so he was not able to give me any further information,” she said on Monday.