Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Boeung Tamok Residents To Appeal Lower Court Verdict In Supreme Court

Boeung Tamok residents in front of the Court of Appeal on May 21, 2024.(Supplied)
Boeung Tamok residents in front of the Court of Appeal on May 21, 2024.(Supplied)

Five Boeung Tamok residents plan to file an appeal with the Supreme Court next week against the Court of Appeal’s verdict which upheld a lower court’s ruling that sentenced them for aggravated agitation against public officials to eight months imprisonment and fined one million riel in 2022.

“We are ready to file our appeal next week and seek an acquittal from the Supreme Court,” said Sea Sambath, one of the defendants, after the Appeal Court decision on Tuesday.

He felt that it was unfair that poor people like him repeatedly suffered lawsuits and threats by the authorities. Now they are being sent to prison without their case being investigated although they did not commit any crime, he said.

The 40-year-old man is also worried that if he went to prison, his family would face more financial problems and stop his six children from going to school. Sambath earns between 40,000 riel and 50,000 riel, approximately $15 a day, collecting clams.

“I was disappointed with the trial as they did not investigate properly but sentenced us. We don’t agree,” he said. “If I [go to jail], there is no livelihood to support my children’s education, plus the situation at home is still not settled. This is a continuous tragedy.”

In a court document viewed by a reporter, Court of Appeal prosecutor Yin Sokuntheary summoned the five residents to appear on April 26, 2024 after they appealed against the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict on July 29, 2022. On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal delivered its judgment, upholding the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision.

Another resident, Am Phoeun, who was convicted with her two daughters Khun Chory and Khun Chora, expressed similar views on the decision, calling it unfair, particularly because only she was involved in the issue, not the rest.

Recounting the incident in 2021 which led to her conviction, Phoeun said her 20-year-old son was caught by the district security guard station after he got on his boat on the lake. He had thrown a wooden pole around the fishing area to prevent the fish from jumping out of the net.

After his arrest, Phoeun said she went to the station to demand his release, adding that only she was at the station, thus it had nothing to do with the other defendants.

“I am upset every day as [what happened] is not fair to our family. We did not do anything wrong but have ended up in prison.” 

“If I did indeed block or clear the lake, I deserve to be punished, but we were only catching fish and now the entire lake, which is more than 3,000 hectares, has been filled in and distributed to a tycoon’s company,” she said, adding that they had only asked for an area to fish but were convicted instead.

According to Phoeun, this was the community’s first-ever court warrant since their protests in 2019 after the lake behind their houses was filled. However, Phoeun has already received five court warrants in other cases.

From 2021 to 2023, 18 community residents have faced various charges of “intentional violence” and “aggravated assault on public officers”. One of them, Prak Sophea, a former community representative, who feared being arrested, fled to Thailand last year, where she sought refugee status.

Lawyer Lim Samoeun, who is representing the Boeung Tamok residents, cannot confirm the appeal yet, as he has not received the full judgment from the Court of Appeal. But he assured that his clients can file an appeal with the Supreme Court if they did not agree with the Appeal Court decision.

Court of Appeal deputy president Khun Leang Meng told CamboJA News that after examining the evidence, the court found that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision was correct.

“The judges decided to uphold the verdict of the lower level on the facts [of the case], the law and the plaintiff’s testimony. The judges believe that the [lower] court made the right decision, so the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict,” said Leang Meng.

He added that the Court of Appeal has also given the defendants one month to file their appeal with the Supreme Court.

Licadho operations director Am Sam Ath opined that the authorities should resolve it through peaceful procedures rather than take the citizens to court, which burdens them more.

“It is not good for the [authorities] to find legal issues as an additional pressure for the people who have land issues. It leads to [public] criticism because the authorities should help and coordinate a solution which is acceptable by the people.

“As more burden is felt by the people, the more they will push back. The victims are the people,” Sam Ath said, urging the relevant authorities and the community residents to seek a peaceful solution to end the land dispute.