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Rights group says Battambang villagers wrongly sentenced

Rights group says Battambang villagers wrongly sentenced

Five-year jail sentence handed down to villagers is baseless and overlooks blatant land-grabbing by an RCAF official, Adhoc says.

LOCAL rights group Adhoc says the conviction of five villagers in Battambang last week for robbery is an attempt by the RCAF official who pressed charges to threaten and discredit a community whose land he has illegally appropriated.

The provincial court last Thursday sentenced the villagers to a five-year prison sentence and ordered them to collectively pay US$13,000 in compensation to Som Vannthoeun, who works at the Inspection Department of the Army Command Headquarters.  Four of the men were sentenced in absentia.

"The decision by the court on February 19 is not just because it is baseless," said the statement.

Long Lon, a lawyer provided to the villagers by Adhoc, said the conviction of robbery was unacceptable because the convicted individuals did not rob plantiff Som Vannthoeun, but Som Vanntheoun seized property of the convicted individuals violently. "The sentence is groundless," he said.

Adhoc also called on the Appeal Court to open an investigation into the case to give justice to the five convicted.

Villagers beg for PM's help

Some 100 villagers representing the 415 families from the Daunba commune area protested Monday and Tuesday outside Hun Sen's house in Takhmao, petitioning for intervention by the prime minister.

Villager Un Sony said that since 2006, Som Vanthoeun had prohibited villagers from farming their fields because he claimed ownership of them.

"We are not allowed to work on our farmland," he said, adding that people have turned to finding wood and picking vegetables for living.

"They even burned down our homes and arrested our people."

Som Vannthoeun said he was satisfied with the verdict.

"Provincial authorities have found justice for me," he said. "They robbed my farm, taking machines, oil and 30 pieces of zinc."

Judge Nov Yarath, who presided over the hearing Thursday, could not be contacted for comment Tuesday.

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