A forestry activist has claimed that he was physically attacked and injured at a public forum organised by Lumphat district authorities on July 8 and is now receiving medical treatment in Phnom Penh.
Civil Society officials have requested a national investigation into the case.
Forestry activist Chhorn Phalla, a member of the Tampuan indigenous group in Sakmotr Kraom village, Seda commune, in Lumphat district, said he was escorted by a family from the provincial hospital to Phnom Penh the following day.
Phalla said when he raised his concerns at the forum about the loss of forests, a group of people beat him until he almost fainted while officials refused to assist him. He said he had previously accused the people that beat him of stealing state land in collusion with the authorities.
“I am also a citizen and have the right to participate too. I registered to join the forum. The people that beat me are people I have been suing since 2017 for forest crimes and the sale of state forest land . . . This land has been sold to individuals.
“When they beat me, I ran to the authorities for help. I went to Lumphat district governor Nou The’s place for help. But when I reached his place, he asked me, ‘Who asked you to complain?’
“I described to him that I complained according to the law. Later, someone [a resident] came to hit me and took away my phone. This time I fell on the ground in front of Nou The.”
Phalla said he was able to ride a motorcycle back home and asked his wife to boil traditional Khmer medicine for him to drink to cure his internal bruising.
Suddenly, he said the police and a large group of people surrounded his house.
He said he travelled to Phnom Penh to treat his injuries because he suffers from diabetes which is a chronic illness, and high blood pressure. After the doctor gave him an injection, he was able to start talking again. But he still has some difficulty walking and his body is still bruised and swollen.
Phalla said after the incident, seven other forestry activists living in the commune with him escaped from their houses to hide in the provinces because they were scared of being beaten as well.
Kham Lork, a forestry activist who fled the commune, said he escaped one day after hearing that Phalla had been beaten up. He also found that six village guards had spied on his home while he was at his farm.
But he decided to return home after receiving information from his family that no one was spying on his house any longer.
The denied Phalla’s complaint and said people had not beaten him up. He said Phalla fled to Phnom Penh with Adhoc officials.
“He gave an interview and said he had been beaten up by the people and his leg was broken. Look at his leg, does it look broken? He fled with Pen Bunnar [an Adhoc official] to Phnom Penh.”
On July 8, The wrote a letter to Ratanakkiri provincial governor Thong Savon stating that Phalla had entered the forum uninvited and had misrepresented the topic.
The said Phalla disrupted the forum and posted pictures without permission. When the authorities tried to stop him, he refused to listen. That’s why people confiscated his phones, The said.
However, Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said according to people who attended the forum and asked to remain anonymous, Phalla was indeed beaten up.
Sen Karuna said when extra-judicial violence is used against the community, it is very regrettable that the country’s law allows it in certain cases.
“We call on the national level not to believe only reports from the sub-national level. And there should be a thorough investigation because these problems reveal a lot of irregularities and occur almost systematically in that area.
“There should be in-depth research to find justice for the parties. Avoid just getting reports from sub-levels,” he said.