Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Nine villagers who protested against new airport to be tried

Nine villagers from Kandal province who were arrested while protesting against a new airport were released on bail on September 20, 2021. Photo Supplied
Nine villagers from Kandal province who were arrested while protesting against a new airport were released on bail on September 20, 2021. Photo Supplied

The Kandal Provincial Court’s investigating judge Vann Sopanha has decided to send the case of nine people arrested after protesting against a new mega-airport project to trial, according to documents seen by CamboJA.

The villagers were released on bail last year, after being arrested on charges of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances, obstructing a public official with aggravating circumstances and incitement to commit a felony after they participated in protest against the development by the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC) – which is owned by well-connected Oknha Pung Kheav Se.

They face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Kandal Provincial Court spokesman So Sarin said that the court has not set a date for the trial yet.

For four years, more than 300 families in Kandal province’s Kadal Stung district and Bati in Takeo province, have been locked in a dispute over the mega airport. They have rejected the offered compensation rate of $8 per square meter for affected farmland. Protests broke out on 12 September when authorities began clearing the land. 

Villagers gather to demonstrate in front of police barricades where authorities blocked a road leading to their farmland, which is being cleared to prepare the site for a planned airport in Kandal Stung district, Picture taken on September 12, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Khim Chetra, one of the nine defendants, said she is being persecuted not only by the company – from which she is still seeking compensation – but now by the judiciary.

“Let the court drop the charges against me and others because we have been already abused. I have not been able to farm for years now,” she said. “I do not know if they are pressuring me to accept compensation, but I’m just afraid of being punished, I am very worried.”

Chetra is currently seeking a lawyer from an NGO due to lack of funds to pay for a private defense attorney.

She said that out of the nine arrested, five agreed to the compensation since being granted bail, but she and the others are holding out.

Beside the affected farmland, sixty-four houses in Kampong Talong village, Kandal Stung district, have been affected and those families are being required to relocate. Local authorities and the company are discussing compensation rates with them.

Am Sam Ath, operation director of rights group Licadho, said his organization would be happy to provide legal aid.

He said it is time the judiciary stops being used to coerce communities into accepting unfair solutions.

“They were living happily, but when developments come, they suffer from persecution,” he said. “The company is profiting from the development and the affected people should also receive decent benefits as well,” he added.