A union worker and a resident detained by Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities on Monday during a protest over land demarcation were charged yesterday over land encroachment and obstruction.
On Monday, Tep Sopha, a Cambodian Labour Confederation officer, and Chhay Rath, a former Lek Muoy commune chief who represented the former opposition party, were arrested during a protest in the Kbal Chhay protected area.
Mr Rath’s wife said that he was only an ordinary citizen who was arrested for attempting to negotiate with authorities, but it was later revealed that Mr Rath was a former commune chief.
Mr Rath in the past had been detained for eight months from 2017 to early 2018 for allegedly encouraging villagers to encroach upon land in the protected area.
An Rama, provincial coordinator for CLC, yesterday said both men were questioned for two days by police before going to court.
“After being questioned by the court at about 6.30pm yesterday, the investigating judge decided to detain them in prison,” Mr Rama said. “The court is accusing them of putting up fences and signs occupying state land.”
“The court also alleged that they obstructed the work of authorities doing land demarcation,” he added. “The decision to detain them is unjust because protesting residents did not encroach.”
Sam Sarath, Mr Rath’s wife, yesterday said provincial authorities must intervene and help release her husband and the union officer.
Ms Sarath said her husband never had the intention to instigate a protest, nor incite people to illegally encroach upon state land.
“Provincial governor, please help my husband,” she said. “He made no mistake, he only approached the authorities to inquire, but was arrested instead.”
Court spokesman Yim Bunnareth could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Dozens of people yesterday gathered outside of the provincial court demanding the release of Mr Rath and Mr Sopha.
The CLC issued a statement calling the jailing of both men an injustice which creates fear among residents.
In the statement, the CLC asked provincial authorities to release both men and resolve the land dispute with the residents living in and around the protected area.
“The CLC requests that the Interior Ministry and the Land Management Ministry question local authorities who were present at the scene at the time, who allowed the rights of both men to be infringed upon, and apply appropriate measures,” the statement said.
Srun Sroan, deputy provincial governor who was at the protest, said yesterday that Kbal Chhay is a source of freshwater for the whole province.
Mr Sroan noted that people have built illegal homes and that the residents are subject to removal.
“For any individuals who have illegal settlements in Kbal Chhay area, please leave because the provincial administration will take strict action against you,” he said.