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Prominent activists face incitement charges

Prominent activists face incitement charges

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Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Ou Virak talks to the media last month outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Photograph: Mai Vireak/Phnom Penh Post

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court yesterday summonsed three well-known rights workers and a journalist to appear for questioning next week over years-old incitement charges in connection with a long-standing land dispute.

In a summons signed by deputy provincial prosecutor Chea Sopheak, the court ordered Radio Free Asia journalist Sok Ratha, Adhoc activists Pen Bonnar and Chhay Thy and Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Ou Virak to appear on October 11.

This is the second time in a year that Bonnar, Thy and Ratha have been questioned by the court.

The two Adhoc employees left the province in 2009 after threats that they would be charged with incitement to terrorism, though both returned the following year.

All four maintain that they were only investigating the case of 60 ethnic Tampuon families from Ratanakkiri province embroiled in a dispute with the DM Group for years.

Villagers say the well-connected rubber company encroached on 260 hectares of land and have sought to fight the company in court. However, those complaints have been repeatedly ignored even as complaints against rights groups and villagers involved in the case have gone through.

Sopheak defended the timing of the summons, saying that, though the complaint dates to 2009, he has only just been able to follow up on it.

“This time we’re free, so we take it up,” he explained.

Speaking to the Post yesterday, Virak and Bonnar both denied the allegations.

“I cannot accept this accusation, because it is so serious,” said Bonnar. “I did not incite people to commit a crime.”

Virak insisted that he had only met with villagers to look into their allegations. However, he was not surprised to hear of the summons.

“It’s not strange to me. It’s a political issue, and rich people always influence the court system.”

He noted, the timing of the questioning – which comes in the wake of the Mam Sonando case and a similar summons issued for senior Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth – could raise eyebrows.

“Maybe they want to put pressure on the NGOs, all of the activists.”

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]

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