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Verdict today in case of jailed land activist

Verdict today in case of jailed land activist

After more than three months in jail, environmental activist Kuch Veng is set to hear his verdict at the Pursat provincial court.

The verdict was originally scheduled to be handed down July 10, but the judge ordered it delayed after some 300 people from 11 provinces set up tents outside the court in protest of the use of the judicial system as a tool to threaten activists.

A community representative said yesterday that no more than 30 people were expected to show at today’s announcement, to forestall further postponement.

“Many people will not be coming like before, so I hope the court will adhere to its mission to seek justice and that [Veng] can regain his freedom,” Krakor district community representative Lon Siry said.

Presiding judge Mao Sina said the announcement would go ahead as scheduled.

“We open the hearing publicly and everyone can participate and listen,” he said.

Veng was arrested May 19 while meeting with villagers who claimed their land had been measured incorrectly by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s student volunteers in Kbal Trach commune. He stands accused of fraud after allegedly misappropriating $4,500 given to him by another villager in 2010. Rights groups have maintained that the charges are politically motivated and tied to his history of outspoken activism.

The arrests came following a number of protests against powerful developer Pheapimex, which is owned by Choeung Sopheap, wife of ruling-party senator Lao Meng Khin, and which villagers maintain has been involved in land-grabbing.

Puong Sothear, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday the charges were likely aimed at warning off other would-be activists.

“Getting the judicial system to detain Kuch Veng is to discourage other people from protesting,” he said.

According to the latest Adhoc report, released early this year, crackdowns on land rights activists have been on the rise. In 2012, 223 people were arrested in relation to housing and land issues – an increase of 144 per cent year on year.

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