AT least 15 village representatives are currently serving jail time due to multiple prosecutions stemming from single disputes with private firms, according to figures released by local rights group Adhoc yesterday.
The report states that the jailed representatives – from Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Siem Reap provinces – were charged and later released for their respective roles in land disputes, only to be further prosecuted at later dates on related charges. The report looks at the prosecution of village representatives resulting from land disputes since 2000.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer with Adhoc, called the repeated prosecution of village representatives an impediment to fair protest.
“Arresting representatives is a mental punishment that threatens villagers to stop protesting, and hand over their land to powerful parties,” said Ouch Leng.
“These cases show that detaining villagers is a punishment to dampen the villagers’ spirits in protesting against the powerful parties or companies.”
The report highlighted various disputes from the past decade, including a 2003 dispute between 23 families in Kampong Cham province and the Ta Pao rubber plantation, which eventually netted the village representative two separate spells in detention seven years later, in April 2010.
Penh Vibol, a Kampong Chhnang provincial court prosecutor, said repeated prosecution was the result of judges “separating the charges” into different cases.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, used the analogy of a robbery case in which the suspect was first tried on robbery charges, and later questioned on related charges following further investigation.
“In our country, it’s difficult when some offensive cases are not sufficiently investigated and the offenders are suddenly questioned and detained,” he said. “The judges should justify this point.”
Last month, Adhoc released a report stating that a total of 306 villagers had been charged in connection with land disputes in 2010. From that total, 51 remained in prison, 128 were released on bail after periods of detention and 127 had fled their homes to escape prosecution.