Some 400 people in Preah Sihanouk province's Stung Hav district on Friday protested in front of the provincial court demanding the release of four protesters who have been detained over a land dispute with a tycoon.
Loch Touch, Men Khen, Nhanh Cheat and Kao Heng, all from Otres commune's O’Ksach village, were put in pre-trial detention on May 6 after they were arrested for "intentionally clearing" Tan Tab's land, to which he has a title.
The villagers, who have been locked in the dispute with Tab since late last year, also demanded 84ha of the disputed land.
You Veasna who represented the 400 villagers, said the four had been treated unfairly.
“We asked the court to drop all charges against them. The detention is unjust because the court ignored the Ministry of Agriculture's certification which ceded parts of the protected forest land to villagers."
“Not long after that, the powerful tycoon just came out of nowhere with a land title, leading to the arrest and detention of the four," he said.
Cambodia Coalition of Farmer Community (CCFC) head Theng Savoeun said the court should conduct further investigation and release the villagers so they can collect more evidence to prove ownership of the land.
"Court officials said they need more evidence and documents before they could release the four. But I think if they want more documents, they should release them first so they can collect legal documentation to stand up to the tycoon. If they are still in detention, how can they handle the case with the tycoon?" he asked.
Provincial court spokesperson Yim Bunnareth said the villagers should appeal the detention according to law.
"They have to petition the court to release them on bail and let the court decide. Then they can file a complaint to the appeal court. If they come to protest, how can we solve the problem?" he asked.
Defence lawyer Ke Bun Thoeun previously told The Post that his clients should not be detained given a lack of evidence.
He said the land is located in a protected forest to which no one is entitled to by law. He said the plaintiff, who claimed to have a title, should be punished under article 259 of the land law.