Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Man faces defamation suit amid land-clearing claims



Man faces defamation suit amid land-clearing claims

Uk Mao rides his bike in the land where they have claimed illegal clearing of community forest land. Photo supplied.
Uk Mao rides his bike in the land where they have claimed illegal clearing of community forest land. Photo supplied.

Man faces defamation suit amid land-clearing claims

An activist in Stung Treng province has been hauled before commune authorities, threatened with a defamation suit and allegedly warned he could be beaten to death for exposing land clearing in his native Thala Borivat district.

Uk Mao, 53, said he was interrogated for an hour on Sunday after leading local reporters on several occasions to an area of state and community forest in Sam Ang commune he says has been cleared for about four years by migrant farmers, with some of the land also sold off for between $150 and $200 per hectare.

“They said that I defamed them over the forest logging,” Mao, an ethnic Kuoy villager, said yesterday.

“They said that I reported untrue information. I responded: ‘Why is it untrue? You must have never been to the forest then.’ I spoke the truth.”

Mao said news reports of the clearing had enraged local commune officials, particularly commune chief Nhien Phon, whose aggressive response led the activist to believe local authorities may be complicit in the forest’s destruction.

“In my mind, I think that they are involved, because [Phon] pointed his finger at me at the café and threatened me. [He said] ‘do not talk carelessly or villagers might beat you dead’.”

Reached yesterday, Phon rejected the claim of involvement and said inspections of the site by multiple government agencies had found nothing untoward.

“We have never seen a site where thousands of hectares of land have been sold,” he said, before hanging up.

Even if land has been cleared, Mao said the commune police had seized upon his rough estimate that 3,000 hectares were affected and demanded he thumbprint a document testifying to the claim.

“They said that if the land size is smaller by only 1 hectare, they can jail me,” he said.

Sam Ang commune police chief Kong Sina, who issued the summons for Mao, said though some local forests had been logged in the past, claims of recent clearing was untrue.

He said Mao’s case had been sent to his district superiors for a decision.

Thala Borivat District Governor Thong Srun dismissed the activist’s claims, which he said were “completely untrue” and amounted to defamation of public officials.

Under the Kingdom’s Criminal Code, citizens can defame both an individual and institution by “any allegation or charge made in bad faith” that injures a party’s honour or reputation. The maximum fine is about $2,500. A one- to six-day prison sentence is also prescribed for anyone convicted of insulting a public official.

“I have inspected [the site] myself, and there is no crime,” Srun said, before suggesting Mao could escape legal action if he shut up.

“We will call for him once or twice, and if he does not listen, we will implement our procedures.”

Speaking yesterday, a journalist shown the site by Mao confirmed his account.

“There is land clearing up to thousands of hectares,” said the journalist, who requested anonymity.

MOST VIEWED

  • Municipal hall releases map detailing colour coded Covid risks by commune

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng released an official map detailing the red, yellow and dark yellow zones within the city under the new lockdown orders for Phnom Penh announced on April 26. The designation of red, dark yellow and yellow corresponds to areas with high,

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Phnom Penh, Takmao lockdown extended for another week

    The government late on April 26 announced an extension of lockdown in Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province for another seven days – or longer if residents do not comply with Covid-19 preventive measures and the community outbreak does not subside – until May 5. According

  • Gov't mulls extension of Phnom Penh, Takmao lockdown

    The Inter-ministerial National Commission for the Control and Enforcement of Lockdown held a video conference meeting on April 25 to review a draft document on the extension of lockdown in Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal province’s Takmao town. The meeting was chaired by Minister of

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a