Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Seven Boeung Tamok Residents Sued For Stopping The Demolition of A Vegetable Stall

Boeung Tamok villagers show their court summons in front of Prek Pnov district hall on January 15, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)
Boeung Tamok villagers show their court summons in front of Prek Pnov district hall on January 15, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)

Seven Boeung Tamok residents in Prek Pnov district have received additional court summons from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday morning following their clash with district authorities on December 18, 2023.

Both parties locked horns in the afternoon altercation as the authorities attempted to demolish a partially-built vegetable stall belonging to one of the residents. 

The summons were served on five family members of vegetable stall owner Kong Toeur and two of her neighbors. 

Phnom Penh Court Deputy Prosecutor Keo Sokbandit, who issued the summons, asked the seven villagers to appear in court on January 23, 24 and 25 for alleged “intentional violence, damage and crime against public officials”. The plaintiff, Sok Ban, is known as an official in the district, according to villagers.

Stall owner Kong Toeur denied that she and other villagers acted violently or injured any district officers. Rather, it was the villagers and herself who were injured. 

“For the authorities, none of them were injured but I was the one who was injured because they brought drunkards with them. The authorities [who came that day] were all drunk. They grabbed my youngest daughter’s hair and beat my other daughter. Yet, they are the ones suing us,” said Toeur.

The district authorities were not fair to her community, she said, as they felt oppressed and violated during the incident. “They do not want people to live in Cambodia, they want us to migrate.”

The fact that the land dispute continued, combined with the local authorities’ alleged persecution, Toeur said her livelihood has been affected “in every way”. She is not able to secure an income, repay private loans and her mental health is impacted, often forgetful and in a state of confusion.

Kong Toeur’s daughter, Yorn Kimyoeun, also attested that she did not commit any violence against the district official. She said she was only trying to save her family from being violated by the local authorities. But, she too ended up getting a court summons.

“This order is not fair to us because we were only setting up a stall on our land to sell some groceries. The authorities pulled my sister’s hair and tore my mother’s clothes. But now they are suing us by using the criminal code,” she rued.

Boeung Tamok villagers gather in front of Prek Pnov district hall after they received summons from the Phnom Penh municipality court, January 15, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)

Another resident, Am Phoeun, who has received the “most number of complaints” for different cases, including the new complaint, said she was upset with the district authority, who is a parent to some of the people.

Despite that, he continued to sue the people when all they wanted to do was protect their home, said Phoeun, who has four summons to her name, adding that the residents are aware that they should not violate the authority.

“I am very upset that my parents [are among the local authorities] who are suing us. No foreign countries sued us, only the district court.”

“We don’t know the name of any of the plaintiffs, but we know that they are from the district hall. They have sued us again and again, asking what I did wrong, but I was just protecting my home.”

With regards to this, Pheoun asked Prime Minister Hun Manet to consider allocating four hectares of land to her community and allow them to develop the place.

“Let Hun Manet cut up four hectares of land for 115 families with 76 houses in Samraong Tbong community.”

Currently, more than 10 residents have been issued court summons while some of them have received more than one. 

On Monday afternoon, some 60 villagers went to the district hall to seek a meeting with Prek Pnov district governor Thim Sam An after some of them got the summons. They wanted to ask him to clarify the summons, and request that in future they should be informed earlier as this would prevent villagers from protesting, and becoming parties in a suit.

Unfortunately, despite waiting for two hours, the villagers were not able to see him.

When contacted by CamboJA on Tuesday, Sam An said the district authority is “always interested in the lives of the people”, but if they make a mistake, they have to follow legal procedures.

“The district […] is open for people to live, but if people [do anything] wrong, the district will follow the legal procedure.”

“So, [for] you as a journalist, I would like to briefly answer that if they  [the villagers] did not make a mistake, the district will not summon them,” said Sam An.

However, he did not respond to questions relating to the people’s request to the authorities to give advance warning before doing something, and ended the conversation abruptly.

Am Sam Ath, operations director of human rights group Licadho, opined that the authorities should find a peaceful solution for the people, not simply use judicial pressure on the residents.

He urged this as the authorities are the “parents who have to take care of the children”. “All the authorities have to do is find a solution that is acceptable to all citizens, not cause problems over and over again.”

“It means that while the land issue and the livelihood of the community are [in trouble], [the authorities] have made the villagers victims to the court [system]. It is the same story with civil society organizations, which ask that this custom stops.” 

Since the matter has already gone to court, he asked the judiciary to give the case due consideration and provide a proper decision. 

Circling back to Kong Toeur, she said, the reason why more than 100 families refused to move to a new place was because they were aware of their former neighbors’ experience. The neighbors apparently moved to a new place but still do not have a suitable home, are located far from schools, hospitals and are unable to find an income.

According to a report by NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, residents who were displaced from their homes without being properly resettled are burdened with debt, have low access to food, while children experience disruptive education and are subject to child labor.