Koh Kong Provincial Court told Kiri Sakor district villagers yesterday that their jailed community leader, for whose release they have been protesting for more than a week, will be granted bail on the condition that they cease their demonstrations.
On October 27, the court detained community representative Phorn Noland and charged him with theft of materials belonging to the Koh Kong Special Economic Zone (SEZ), owned by tycoon and ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat. About 135 families from the area have been embroiled in a dispute with the SEZ over land in the district.
After Nol’s detention, some 100 people, including protesters from the Boeung Kak lake community in Phnom Penh, erected tents in front of the court and have been demonstrating for nearly 10 days.
According to village representative Roeun Rom, judge Kham Sophary accepted the bail and said that Nol will be released next Monday if the villagers and their supporters break up the protest.
Rom, however, said that they would only stop protesting once Nol is released.
“Provided that Phorn Nol is released, we will demolish the tents immediately and we will look for other ways to protest the land dispute,” Rom said.
The court rejected Nol’s bail request on Tuesday but due to intervention from provincial governor Pen Bon Chhouy, the request was resubmitted, said Neang Boratino, of rights group Adhoc, which provided Nol with a lawyer.
Boratino called Nol’s planned release a tense impasse between the people and the court.
“We would like the court and authorities to drop charges or not detain people in land disputes, because protesters also have other priorities,” he said.
Judge Sophary declined to comment on the case.