The Kandal Provincial Court on Tuesday found nine people not guilty after they were arrested last year over protests against a new international airport project that will force them and their families to relocate.
The nine people, from Kandal’s Kandal Stung district and Takeo province’s Bati district, were charged with intentional acts of violence with aggravating circumstances, incitement to commit a felony and incitement to obstruct a public official, and had faced up to five years in prison if found guilty.
They were released on bail last year, after being arrested following their participation in a protest against the airport development by the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC) – which is owned by well-connected oknha Pung Kheav Se.
One of the acquitted protesters, 24-year-old Duk Sinath, said she was thankful for the decision since she was planning to move to South Korea soon for work.
“I have to go to work in Korea. If the court did not drop the charges, I would do nothing,” she said, adding that she had not been guilty of the crime as charged.
“In fact, some villagers threw stones at authorities [while protesting], but because they were angry after their farmland was destroyed,” Sinath said.
Five of the defendants, including Sinath, were represented by an attorney provided by local human rights group Licadho.
Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s operations director, welcomed the court’s decision — one in which the judicial system was not used to pressure land disputants, he said.
“Most of them agreed to accept the compensation [for relocating]. It was a land dispute and they did not act as charged,” he said.
Now, an acceptable settlement between the residents and OCIC needed to be expedited, Sam Ath said.