FOUR ethnic Tumpoun villagers charged with trespassing on the property of a rubber company were released on Thursday after what the defendants and their lawyer described as a fair and friendly questioning session at the Ratanakkiri provincial court.
The villagers are embroiled in an ongoing land dispute with the plantation’s owner, DM Group. The only condition on their release was that they must inform commune authorities if they plan to leave the area for more than one week.
Defendant Sven Vev said investigating judge Thor Saron met separately with each defendant for around 30 minutes to discuss the trespassing charge.
“The judge talked gently to us. I didn’t feel as though I was under arrest. We just sat down and discussed the law,” he said.
He went on to say that the land dispute was never mentioned in the course of the meeting. Instead, the judge told him not to associate with thieves or commit any crime that would lead to another arrest.
Long Lon, the lawyer provided for the villagers by the rights group Adhoc, said the defendants had feared being arrested after they had been asked to meet with the judge, but were happily surprised by the tone and outcome of the proceedings.
“The questions were acceptable under the law,” Long Lon said. “Finally, the judge explained that they needed to inform commune authorities if they were travelling outside the area for more than a week, and asked them not to use violence or commit crimes that might send them back to jail.”
Pen Bonnar, an Adhoc provincial coordinator embroiled in the same dispute, said Thor Saron’s conduct Thursday had been fair, but accused him of processing the case too slowly.
Adhoc temporarily moved Pen Bonnar to Phnom Penh last year after he was charged with incitement for refusing to appear in court in connection with his support of the Tumpoun villagers, though he returned on January 1.