Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Forest activists face ‘incitement’ probe



Forest activists face ‘incitement’ probe

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Timber seized by authorities in Ratanakkiri near Lumphat Wildlife Sanctuary in May. Photo supplied

Forest activists face ‘incitement’ probe

A senior rights group official and eight ethnic community members were questioned by a Ratanakkiri provincial court prosecutor on Tuesday over alleged incitement to forestry crimes.

According to the court report, Pen Bunna, the senior land and natural resources investigator for rights group Adhoc, and the eight villagers were accused by authorities of inciting people to clear forest land at a sanctuary in Lumphat district’s Seda commune.

The lawsuit also alleged that they had created a group to demand plots of land from an unidentified company with an economic land concession in the area.

Bunna told The Post on Tuesday that two years ago, he and many villagers filed a complaint to court over the authority’s indifference to forestry crimes, only to face a counter-lawsuit.

“We filed the complaint to court not as a civil party but as [witnesses] who can give information about the crime. We’ve been to court to clarify our complaint but recently we’ve received a court summons calling us ‘suspects’ in a counter-lawsuit lodged by the ones we accused of the crime,” he said.

Bunna said he was accused of inciting people to occupy forest land, threatening authority and plotting an insurrection.

He claimed the Ministry of Environment had put more than 1,200ha of forestland in Lumphat district under the ethnic community’s protection. But after witnessing the felling of thousands of trees, Bunna and the community reported to the authority, which they claim ignored the complaint.

“The prosecutor questioned us over what we have been accused of, but we denied all the allegations. They accused me of inciting villagers to clear and sell forest land but I don’t have even a single plot of forestland although I’ve lived in Ratanakkiri for 10 years."

“I’ve always told the community to report forest crimes to the authorities. We never told them to threaten the authorities."

“The accusation that we created an insurrection zone was unacceptable. The insurrection allegation is hard to accept because we don’t have any guns, we are bare-handed. So we reject all the accusations made by the authority and relevant institutions."

“We request the deputy prosecutor to make a field visit to see how the forest has been cleared,” Bunna said.

He added that 32 other community members have also been sued by authorities.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Phnom Penh underpass opens to ease traffic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced a temporary opening of the 488m underpass at the Chaom Chao roundabout in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district, which was recently completed to connect traffic from National Road 4 to Russian Federation Blvd. The move is to reduce

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • ‘No chance Cambodia booted out of ASEAN’

    A group of former and current Cambodian diplomats on Tuesday fired back at retired Singaporean diplomat Bihalari Kausikan after he proposed that ASEAN dismiss Cambodia and Laos from the bloc. In an open letter, the Cambodian diplomats said Kausikan’s remarks were made from a

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Woman seeks answers after arrest of American partner

    Filipina Lalaine de Guzman, 48, is demanding answers for the detention of her American partner by Cambodian immigration officers after he was arrested at their home almost 90 days ago. She said without an arrest warrant or proffering any criminal charges, Stephen Sidney Greatsinger, 56, is being detained