The president of Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC) and two of his colleagues were charged with plotting and incitement by the Ratanakiri provincial court on Monday, facing up to 10 years in prison, according to court spokesperson Keo Visoth.
CCFC president Theng Savoeun and his colleagues Nhel Pheap and Than Hach were placed in pretrial detention after being in police custody since May 17. They were charged under articles 453, 494 and 495 under Cambodia’s criminal code, human rights NGO Licadho confirmed. Plotting charges carry a five to 10 year prison sentence and a four million riel fine ($976).
Licadho operations director Am Sam Ath said the charges were sending “a message of intimidation” to civil society groups.
“I think the accusation [plotting] is very serious because they have been working to serve society and the interest of the community,” Sam Ath said of CCFC, a land rights group supporting small farmers. “Accusations like this are unreasonable and it will be affected in helping farmers.”
Savoeun’s wife, Nhung Sok Heang, said she has been able to meet with her husband on Friday and Monday and hoped for his release.
“I urge the court to release my husband,” Heang said. “He has not done anything wrong.”
“It is an injustice for my family because he did not commit what they have accused him of [plotting and incitement],” she added. “These two charges I cannot accept. My husband has been working to promote people’s livelihoods.”
More than one hundred farmers rallied on Friday and Monday outside the Interior Ministry in support of the three CCFC staff and said the organization had been a staunch ally to farmers.
On Friday, Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak accused Savoeun and his colleagues of plotting a Pol Pot-style “peasant revolution.”
He claimed Savoeun had confessed to crimes during police interrogation and that authorities had found evidence of the alleged revolutionary activities on his computer and documents from a CCFC training workshop.
The three detained CCFC staff had been among a group of more than 30 employees and their families returning from an organizational workshop in Ratanakiri on May 17 when they were detained in Kratie en route to Phnom Penh.
Seventeen CCFC staff were interrogated all night by Kratie police. Savoeun, Pheap and Hach were then transferred to the custody of Ratanakiri police while the other 14 colleagues were allowed to return home.
While the workshop was a time for CCFC to reflect on its projects and mission to support small farmers, attendees also “dared to discuss openly about the current situation of Cambodia” according to one CCFC employee who was present.
Savoeun had previously been arrested and imprisoned for five months in 2014 following mass protests.