Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Lor Peang community activists granted bail after live-streaming land conflict

Land activist Oum Sophy and other villagers from the Lor Peang community submit a petition at the Ministry of Interior to approve Boeng Pur lake as a protected site. Photo taken September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Land activist Oum Sophy and other villagers from the Lor Peang community submit a petition at the Ministry of Interior to approve Boeng Pur lake as a protected site. Photo taken September 10, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Activists in Kampong Chhnang province called on the court to drop intentional damage charges against them after the court released two out of three of them on bail Monday.

Hong Kimhak, provincial court spokesman, confirmed the court decided to release Oum Sophy and Snuon Nhoeun on bail, though Tuon Seng was sent to pretrial detention. On Wednesday, Kimhak said the three were charged with intentionally damaging property. The trio was arrested after Sophy and Nhoeun live-streamed a dispute between villagers over land.

Nhoeun, who is married to Sophy, told CamboJA on Thursday that he is disappointed with the charges, which were baseless, and said he believed the arrest was in retaliation for live-streaming the dispute.

“They have questioned us, related to taking pictures and live-streaming without permission but on paper they have accused us of intentionally causing damage to property,” he said.

“I can’t accept what they have charged us with because we did nothing to damage property, I just took photos,”  Nhoeun said.

He said that the court put some conditions on their release, including banning them from going to the site that is under dispute and stopping taking photos and live-streaming.

“They have restricted our freedom and rights,” he said.

The trio was arrested on Saturday after live-streaming from the site of a local land dispute at Tamol Leu village in Cholkiri district.

Sophy and Nhoeun had visited with Seng, who — along with his neighbors — is involved in a conflict with another villager and local officials, whom they accuse of cutting some parts of their land to distribute to other families.

The conflict is just the latest dispute in Lor Peang, where community members have been involved in a longstanding ​​land dispute with KDC — a powerful company owned by Chea Kheng, wife of Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator at rights group Adhoc, decried the heavy handed response in the latest conflict, which is not related to the ongoing one.

“I think that it is meant to break the spirit of the land activists, especially as both [Sophy and Nhoeun] are prominent activists who have a running dispute with high-ranking officials,” he said.

“A society full of hatred or discrimination, will have no justice and peace,” Chankea said.

He said that authorities have seemingly targeted activists known for protesting.

Sophy is particularly prominent in the Lor Peang community, which has been embroiled in a nearly two-decade long land dispute with KDC, which claims ownership of 512 hectares located in Kampong Tralach district’s Ta Ches commune. Several dozen families have yet to settle their dispute with KDC, which they say grabbed about 100 hectares of their land in 2002.

In August 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sophy of incitement to commit a felony and handed her a one-year suspended sentence for her involvement in the dispute.

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