Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Twenty-one villagers released as nine people sent to prison for using violence against authorities

Villagers are released from Kandal provincial police headquarters after their arrest Sunday during a protest over the newly planned airport, September 14, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Villagers are released from Kandal provincial police headquarters after their arrest Sunday during a protest over the newly planned airport, September 14, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Nine villagers who were arrested on Sunday while protesting an ongoing land dispute over a new airport in Kandal were sent to pre-trial detention on Tuesday night, while 21 other detainees were released.

Kandal governor Kong Sophorn told CamboJA that five men and four women will face legal action for allegedly using violence against authorities during the protest.

More than 100 people in Boeung Khyang​ commune  protested on Sunday after local authorities blocked the road leading to their farms and allowed the company to start clearing their farmland to make way for the new airport — despite the fact that many families are still seeking fair compensation for their property.

Thirty people were arrested on Sunday ahead of what witnesses describe as widespread police raids, beatings and arrests. Provincial authorities accused them of violently attacking police officers.

Sophorn said that authorities decided to release 21 people after three days detention, saying they were found to not be directly involved in the violence.

“I ask to release 21 people, but for the other nine villagers who are the perpetrators. They are facing legal action and being sent to the court, they cannot avoid it,” he said. “Why does everyone only care about the people, why not care about the police as well, the police are also the people, and the police are the law enforcement.”

Song Sokrin, who went to see her brother Song Pichra at the Kandal provincial police office, said he was ​among nine people to be charged by authorities.

“My brother joined the protest against farmland clearing by the company and was arrested. Now he was sent to prison, we just protect our land but we are imprisoned” she said.

Hundreds of families have been locked in disputes for more than three years over the $1.5 billion airport project developed by Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp (OCIC), which is owned by the well-connected Oknha Pung Kheav Se.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, said it was regrettable that the protest that took place on Sunday led to violence and the arrest of 30 people.

“If [they] were charged and detained, this would be a serious issue for people because it is a land dispute, so the relevant authorities should try to resolve it peacefully and should not use force,” he said. “This is a bad thing and has been criticized related to land issues and rights. “

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