THREE villagers who have accused an NGO in Preah Vihear province of human rights violations ranging from unlawful forced eviction to rape were charged and detained by the provincial court yesterday following a three-hour questioning session, their lawyer said.
Long Lun, a lawyer for the villagers provided by the rights group Adhoc, said the court had charged all three – 45-year-old Sath Savoeun, 45-year-old Kim Sophal and 62-year-old Srey Sophan, all of Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district – with incitement and disinformation.
“I requested that the judge not detain them, but the judge said it was his right,” Long Lun said. The lawyer added that he was preparing a bail request for today.
“My clients should be released on bail because they are not dangerous people who have the power to threaten anybody,” Long Lun said.
We all do not want to live under DARPO’s control.... Everyone agreed to thumbprint.
He said the questions of the investigating judge Sor Savuth had concerned 11 pages of complaints from some 100 families that included a request for the government to halt the local operations
of the NGO, the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation.
Sor Savuth accused the three villagers of forcing the families to submit and thumbprint the complaints.
Provincial court officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to Adhoc, the government granted DARPO a 556-hectare social land concession in Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot commune in 2007, and the organisation was tasked with supporting economically disadvantaged families in the area.
At a press conference on September 6 in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 NGOs, accused DARPO of claiming more land that it was entitled to, and of forcing families who have lived there since 2002 to leave their homes in response to “threats, rape and torture”.
The director of DARPO is Pen Loem, a one-star general with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, who is also an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim.
Chan Soveth, a senior monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the court’s decision to arrest the three villagers was an example of the judiciary catering to the rich and powerful.
“The court’s action shows that the court has no ability to handle this case fairly,” he said. “The court only serves the businessmen.”
Keo Oun, a 53-year-old resident of Kantuot commune, said all three were not guilty of the crimes with which they had been charged.
“We all do not want to live under DARPO’s control,” she said. “So we decided to write a letter to the authorities. Everyone agreed to thumbprint.”