Preah Sihanouk provincial court yesterday sentenced four representatives of the O’ksach community in Otres commune, Stung Hav district, Preah Sihanouk province to a year in jail and a five million riel fine.
The decision was handed down after the court ordered the detention of “those who used violence against property owners”.The case of the accused involved a land dispute with Oknha Tan Tab and Lonh Vannak.
Meantime, some 300 people who were present in front of the court during the trial, sang songs and demanded the court drop the charges and release the accused – Luch Touch, 55, Kao Heng, 43, Nhgang Cheat, 35, and Men Ken, 36.
They said the four should be released to be reunited with their families for the coming Pchum Ben Festival.
Sun Sophat, who represented the community, said: “The court has decided and announced that the four have to serve one-year sentences and each has to pay a fine of five million riel.
“This case is absolutely unfair. If the court does not drop the charges against them, where will they find the money to pay this tycoon? We are very disappointed in this court.”
Court deputy prosecutor Lim Bun Heng said the sentence would be reduced to seven months.
Six people were arrested by the police and sued by Tan Tab on May 7, as they cleared grass and weeds on their own land which they have been legally occupying since 1992.
Four of the six were convicted in the provincial court with “causing violence to the property owner” according to Article 253, while the other two were released after being detained following a complaint by the tycoon.
According to Article 253 of the Land Law, the four could have faced a fine of up to 25 million riel and imprisonment of between six months and two years.
The coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) president Theng Saroeun claimed that the people hardly won any land dispute cases which were taken to court. Nonetheless, they should file a complaint to the Appeal Court.
He said that tycoons sue citizens as a threat not to engage in land disputes against them and that it was not the first time the court had ruled against the people in such cases.
“This case might be due to corruption. Since the government granted economic land concessions to the companies, the people protested to the top state institutions."
“But those institutions have issued intervention letters to the provincial authorities in order to settle the cases for the people, but have not [done so]. All we see are complaints filed against the people instead,” he said.