Nearly 70 people representing 246 families living in Banteay Meanchey province’s Ou’ Chrov district protested yesterday in front of the provincial court and the Provincial Hall demanding the court and authorities intervene to drop charges and release their representative who was arrested over a land dispute.
Lim Chhuntry, one of the protesters, said that their representative, Long Sokunthy, was recently arrested following a provincial court warrant on March 26 that alleged she incited citizens to grab company land.
He added that the case was unfair to Ms Sokunthy as well as residents affected by the land dispute so they gathered to demand her release.
“We came here asking for the release of Ms Long Sokunthy because she did not commit the crime as accused. It’s an injustice. The person that tried to do good things and represent the villagers in our land dispute was arrested and imprisoned instead,” he said.
The 246 families have had a land dispute with a company owned by tycoon Sam Phannarith on more than 1,800 hectares of land in Ou’ Bey Choan commune’s Thnal Bot village since 2005, while the people have occupied the land since 1999, according to Mr Chhuntry.
The arrest warrant issued by Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court said Ms Sokunthy, 42, was sentenced to one year in prison for invasion of privacy and property damage.
Deputy provincial governor Ly Sary said the case was under the jurisdiction of the court already because the landowner had filed a lawsuit against Ms Sokunthy.
“Please ask the court directly because the court has received the complaint from the landowner already,” he said.
“In addition, Ms Long Sokunthy led the protest movement, not only in Banteay Meanchey province but she also led a protest in Oddar Meanchey province. She did not do it for the people; perhaps she did it for another benefit.”
Roeun Lina, spokesman of Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court, said the court had already sentenced Ms Sokunthy, who filed a complaint to the Appeal Court against the verdict, so it was beyond the provincial court’s jurisdiction.
“If the people want to protest, they should have protested at the beginning when she was arrested. It is no longer under the jurisdiction of the provincial court,” he said.
“We have instructed them to end the gathering because if they keep on resisting this case, authorities can take action in accordance with the law and they will be in trouble.”