The families of four people from Pailin province’s Krinh village who have been incarcerated since March for allegedly living on state land are calling for their release.
Fifty-year-old Nheb Nharn said that he and his wife, Om Som Ath, had lived on the land in Stung Trang commune since 2000 and that her detainment at Pailin prison was unjustified.
“I appeal to the authorities to release my wife. We have never occupied the lands of other people,” he said.
According to Nharn, authorities accuse 19 families of living on an economic land concession and in early March gave them a 15-day deadline to move off of the land or face arrest.
But, he said, the government has turned a blind eye to former governor Y Chhien and his wife, Ban Sreymom, a parliamentary lawmaker, who are converting what is apparently state land into cassava fields.
Sreymom denied the allegations. “I have no ambition to grab state land, and if those lands were given to me for free, I still would not take them, because state lands are state lands,” she said.
Nharn said authorities told him that his wife and the three other inmates – Om Som Ol, Pich Sothea and Suot Mak – would be released if they relinquished their land.
“For my wife’s freedom, we agreed to thumbprint [a document] to give [away] 5 hectares of land … but my wife has not been released yet,” he said.
Om Sopheap also claimed to have signed away land for the release of his sister, Som Ol.
“Because her 4-year-old child always cries for his mother, I decided to thumbprint [the document] to give the land to [the state], but still they did not release her.”
Yi Soksan, a senior investigator with rights group Adhoc, said that the authorities should formally give the land to the villagers.
“It is not difficult, because those lands belonged to the state; the state can give it to the villagers who do not have land.”