Heng Sok, who represented 50 families in a land dispute with Oknha Ly Yong Phat was sentenced to 18 months in jail and fined two million riel ($500) by the Koh Kong Provincial Court on Tuesday, on a charge of “using violence on a property owner”.
Sok, 48, is said to have put up posts in February, demarcating 103 hectares of disputed land with the aim of negotiating with Yong Phat. Chan Nakry, a manager at the Ly Yong Phat company, filed a complaint against Sok on February 23.
Mean Prom Mony, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the decision to detain Sok is unfair as he represented families who cultivated the land in question before the company received a government concession for the same.
“We would like to call for his release so that he can participate in solving the land dispute peacefully,” he confirmed.
Um Teng, 65, Sok’s mother-in-law said on Tuesday that it is very unfair for a man to be detained for trying to help negotiate the matter.
She said villagers had sought help from provincial officials in the dispute, but they instead called for Sok’s arrest.
“It is unfair on the people. We think this company does not develop or help people escape from poverty,” she said and called for her son-in-law’s release as he has a wife and two young children he needs to provide for.
According to Prom Mony, Yong Phat’s businesses hold sway in the province.
“All complaints filed by his company are worked on immediately and the case always reaches the court which often detains the arrested person.”
Un Sovan Theany, the provincial court’s spokesman, refused to comment on the case, saying he was busy with personal matters.
Nakry said he was unaware of the verdict as he was busy in Phnom Penh. However, he claimed that Sok had encroached on the company’s land, despite the firm explaining its claim to him several times.
“The land does not belong to them because the company has a licence issued by the government and the boundaries are set . . . what we do is based on legal procedures,” he said.
The tycoon’s company came to the province’s Prek Ksach commune in 2005, but tensions rose in February 2016 when it brought environment officials there to demarcate land in Samrong Takeo village.
Within the demarcation were plots that 50 families claim belonged to them.