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Ministry to examine detention of land dispute victims

Villages from Taing Samrong commune protest the jailing of community representatives earlier this week before Prime Minister Hun Sen called for their release via Facebook.
Villages from Taing Samrong commune protest the jailing of community representatives earlier this week before Prime Minister Hun Sen called for their release via Facebook. Hong Menea

Ministry to examine detention of land dispute victims

Judicial officials from across the country will converge on Phnom Penh on Friday to report on the use of pre-trial detention for land dispute victims, it was announced yesterday.

The meeting, publicised by a Justice Ministry directive, comes less than 48 hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly denounced on Facebook the imprisonment of two women embroiled in a land dispute in Kampong Speu.

“[This letter is] to inform directors and prosecutors of provincial and municipal courts to participate in the [upcoming] meeting regarding pre-trial detention in land dispute cases [to be held] at the Ministry of Justice,” states the document, which called on attendees to bring the relevant data.

The women from Kampong Speu – accused of violating a court order to stay away from the disputed plot – were swiftly granted bail after the premier’s two youngest sons were dispatched to the province on Monday night.

Though their release was welcomed by supporters, judicial independence advocates decried the premier’s apparent influence over the court.

Villagers from Damrei Phung and Kampong Damrei communes in Kratie province’s Chhlong district, where three community representatives are still being detained in relation to a land dispute with provincial authorities, were also upset, saying it was unfair for the premier to help some inmates and not others.

Yesterday, Ouem Soma, the wife of one of the three inmates arrested last week, held out hope. “Samdech is our leader, he will help us,” she said.

According to Pen Bunna, a land rights officer at Adhoc since 2014, 73 people have been detained in relation to land disputes, including 24 women.

Of these, the highest number was in Siem Reap, where 12 people were jailed, followed by Kampong Chhnag with 11.

Currently, however, there are only four behind bars, including the three in Kratie and one in Mondulkiri, he said.

Kratie provincial prosecutor Ty Sovinthal yesterday dismissed assertions he was incorrectly using pre-trial detention. Of the meeting, he said attendees should “not be afraid”.

“The ministry should not believe what others say; it needs to have evidence,” Sovinthal said, adding he was too busy to travel to the capital and would send a representative.

Bunna, of Adhoc, said it appeared the government was trying to win the electorate’s trust following years of land-grabbing claims involving powerful figures.

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