Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Border official refutes Rong Chhun’s land-loss claims at incitement trial

A Prisons Department vehicle brings Rong Chhun and other prisoners to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on February 17. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A Prisons Department vehicle brings Rong Chhun and other prisoners to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on February 17. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

A government official denied allegations made by unionist Rong Chhun that farmers in Tbong Khmum province had lost agricultural land during border demarcation activities, as the trial of the union leader and two others resumed at a Phnom Penh court.

The court has charged Rong Chhun, who is the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, with incitement for his comments on the border issue, which were broadcast on Radio Free Asia shortly before his arrest last July.

Two youth activists, Sar Kanika and Tun Nimol, were also charged with incitement but were arrested during protests calling for the release of the jailed union leader.

During the three-hour hearing, Lay Siengly, a Border Affairs Committee official, rejected Chhun’s claims that villagers in Tbong Khmum along the border with Vietnam had lost land when the government had placed border markers in the province.

 “It is untrue that they [lost land] because [Chhun] does not have documents to support his statement and what he posted was incitement and meant to disturb social security,” Siengly said.

Siengly said that border demarcation officials had placed the border posts in question – number 114 to 119 – in 2018 when the area was forested and claimed that people had encroached on the land recently.

He said demarcation was done using maps and GPS locators, and not the rudimentary methods used by Chhun.

“It’s not just riding a motor and pointing out where there is 500 meters of land lost,” he said.

During the hearing, Chhun stood up in court and claimed his arrest last year was don’t without a warrant and that the prosecutor who was present did not identify himself during the detention.

Seng Hieng, a deputy prosecutor handling the case, said he was presented at Chhun’s house, but that according to the law there was no need for the prosecutor to identify themselves. He said there was also no need for a warrant in red-handed crime.

“The case is related to disturbing social security, and we can’t wait till tomorrow,” to arrest the culprit, Hieng said.

Choung Choungy, Chhun’s defense lawyer, maintained his client’s innocence, adding that the union leader’s comments on the border issue were based on testimonies given by villagers.

“The statement of Rong Chhun was based on what villagers told him, so he didn’t commit incitement,” He said.

He said there was no clear evidence to prove the charges against Chhun.

Am Sam Ath, the deputy director for rights groups Licadho, said the government could help provide clarity in such cases rather than jumping to arrest people.

“We hope that the court will find a fair judgment and acquit him,” he said. The trial will continue on March 10.